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One in a Million

Think you are good at spotting wildlife? Meet Dr. Grant Hopcraft.

Grant immobolizing wildebeest
Dr. Grant Hopcraft with wildebeest

As part of our monitoring support for Serengeti Conservation project, we have supported Dr. Grant Hopcraft (University of Glasgow) and his ongoing research on wildebeest for many years.

 

He is currently looking in depth at their movement patterns and understanding the drivers of movement. Why do they start stampeding? Why do they often leave the plains and then return back? While rainfall and vegetation play a role, could there be something more behind their movement patterns minute by minute?

To assess this information he is utilising their positioning along with several other potentially influential factors, such as availability of food, reproductive status and various disturbances. By looking at hormonal changes in their tail hairs hopefully, a more accurate measurement of the times during which animals are facing food restrictions and stress can be determined. 

Grant with wildeebest
Taking a hair sample

On a recent visit to Serengeti, Dr. Hopcraft was in the field for a couple days removing collars from wildebeest that have been providing data for the past year. Easier said than done, the wildebeest are often tracked first using their signal via the satellite positioning over the internet, then using radio equipment by vehicle and once in sight, must be immobilized so that not only the collar can be removed, but another sample of hair can be taken.

 

While in the process of driving around, Dr. Hopcraft spotted a wildebeest with a collar, and much to his surprise, realized it was not a wildebeest from this year’s selection, but a wildebeest that had been collared in 2006 - The battery in the collar has been dead for nearly 7 years!

 

Wildebeest are usually collared after they are at least 3-4 years of age, putting that wildebeest at 11 or 12 years old, minimum. The lifespan of a wildebeest averages around 20 years, though most only survive the great migration for approximately 14 years, meaning not only had this wildebeest beat the odds of living a long life, managed to cross the treacherous Mara River full of hungry crocodiles numerous times, but somehow was one in a million and a half to be spotted by Dr. Hopcraft! An estimated 80,000 wildebeest are poaching every year in the Serengeti – so this gnu managed to beat the poachers too.

 

With even more luck, Dr. Hopcraft had a team of veterinarians right there with him and was able to call them over to help immobilize her and take her collar off. If he had simply been on a game drive, or seen her without the vets at his side, the chances of being able to follow her for a long enough time so that the vets could reach him, would be slim.

 

This wildebeest truly beat the odds.

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