Part ox, part horse, and entirely traumatized, the wildebeest (genus Connochaetes, lit. ‘Hamburger of the Serengeti’) is welcomed to Animal Review. Please say hello (and probably goodbye while you’re at it). Like all things in the life of the wildebeest, this review will probably not end well.
Rare photo of a wildebeest not being disemboweled.
As you’ve no doubt noticed on the Discovery Channel, the wildebeest is nature’s punching bag. As a species, it pretty much exists as a proving grounds for the weapons of evolution. Indeed, the wildebeest spends the majority of its time testing the efficacy of teeth, claws, beaks, maws and neurotoxic venoms for an impressive roster of high-profile clientele on the African continent. But it’s a living, and the wildebeest makes the most of it. As far as being willing to take collective hits repeatedly and still get up and go to work the next day, the species is second-to-none. Boston-based defense contractor Raytheon would do well to consider the wildebeest for upcoming trials of the next-generation Tomahawk cruise missiles. They probably wouldn’t mind.
Actual passport picture of a wildebeest.
If wildebeests have any philosophy, it’s definitely safety in numbers. They’re always running around in herds, literally stepping over each other to avoid a macabre tragedy at some murky river’s edge. Their social arrangements are akin to freshman nerds in high school, hanging together in the back of the lunchroom, gripped with relentless terror that a jock (lion) will pick on them (eat them).
The month of May kicks off their enormous seasonal migration in which more than one million wildebeest leave the Serengeti in search of more dry grass to eat somewhere else. The migration is their Memorial Day weekend, except in this case, they play the role of both the cars on the freeway and the meat on the barbeques.
Honk if you’re hungry.
Whilst the migration may not always bring good fortune to the wildebeest, it does serve a relatively useful purpose for Mother Earth. One million wildebeest charging out of the Serengeti and making moving pit stops along the way is essentially a giant conveyer belt of fertilizer. They tramp down the grass, add some nitrogen-rich nutrients to the soil and presto: A nice new lawn for Africa. Plus, their ever-present rotting carcasses add that certain je ne sais quoi to the ecology of the grassland. Say what you will about the wildebeest, they take this recycling stuff seriously.
Moreover, just because the life expectancy of a wildebeest is a few hours doesn’t mean that we should dismiss it lightly. They have an important, tragic job (feeding pretty much everyone), and they do it with grace and aplomb. And like the nerds in high school, there’s at least a moderate chance that we’ll all end up working for them someday.