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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Wildebeest Jousting

Air Date: Week of

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Wildebeest at battle (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Kenya’s vast Maasai Mara Reserve is home to large herds of wildebeest and sometimes even among the mass of the herd, individuals can distinguish themselves with a good old-fashioned brawl. Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender shares his blow-by-blow account of a fierce battle between two males.


CURWOOD: Wildlife in Africa is often well-protected, with vast areas like the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, where tourists marvel at lions and leopards, and the great annual migration of zebra, gazelle and wildebeest on the Serengeti. Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender watched a herd of wildebeest – and found that even in the mass of the herd some seem to stand out as individuals.

Wildebeest Jousting, Maasai Mara
© 2017 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

LENDER: Not an hour after sunrise and already, too bright to see. Everything has lost its color. Its shape. Outlines blur, the brilliance obscures (like sprayed white paint). It hurts to look at it. And yet the light contains no heat; it is cooler even than yesterday. The rains are late, again. Maybe the weather will finally change.

A herd of wildebeest, also known as gnu, approaches (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

But in the waiting grasses the only clouds are dust: Two wildebeest out to bash each other’s brains. Head to head so hard they come down on their knees, hind legs bucking the air, the splintering of their horns. One turns and the blows of the other does the turning. He pushes like a plow. Like Flying Horses in a Merry-Go-Round, only in one direction. If it hurts they do not show it.

They are dumb to the pain, deaf to the breath that is heaving.

They slam together, their tails are banners, their hoofs stammer and the dry ground tears.

It is hard to see what anyone gains.

And around again.

Brought down again.

Sixty kilos shy, the loser is ordained...

At last, the one who had no chance has lost. And the victor does his victory dance all four feet in the air above the field of despond, “Look at me! Over here! Look here!”

And his only want was the winning.

The loser head low walks slow his hooves heavy as stones, and the boss that would have been his crown cracked and broken. There was no chance for him. Absolutely none.

What matters in the end except to strive and not to yield? The Brave is the one who knows that he will lose.

Only Heroes live the Heroic Life.

The victor does his dance, all four hooves in the air. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)


CURWOOD: Mark recorded these wildebeest grazing, and you’ll find his photos of the pair jousting, at our website, LOE.org.




Watch a National Geographic video of wildebeest migration

Learn more about wildebeest from the African Wildlife Foundation

Mark Seth Lender’s website

Donald Young Safaris made Mark Seth Lender's field reporting possible


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