Nothing can melt your heart as easily as a baby anything. Even pink and squishy – there is something about a baby animal that brings our maternal and paternal emotions pouring out! Even when something is so ugly that it’s cute.
Spring has sprung in Southern Africa, and baby season is upon us. With oodles of wildlife babies scattering the plains – even the stoniest of hearts will be enchanted. There’s nothing quite as wobbly as a new-born antelope, as leggy as a baby giraffe, or as entertaining as a baby elephant figuring out how to use his trunk.
Animals like the great elephant, the big cats, and other large game species don’t have any control over when their babies are born – but stick closely to their relative gestation periods. However, a unique trait of the smaller plains animals, such as antelope, zebra, and wildebeest –is the ability to hold-off on birthing their offspring until conditions are just right.
Seems crazy – but this shows just how intelligent Mother Nature can be. The pregnant females rely on environmental factors like waiting for seasonal rain and winds, or they’ll delay their delivery until there’s enough food and water available to sustain the increased population numbers.
The occurrence of these large inter-species, breeding herds is known as communal breeding – and eventually, some of these species even evolve for communal breeding in a way that they can no longer breed in smaller numbers or alone in pairs.
Other vital factors for survival are to reduce the chance of predation, because instead of having only a handful of vulnerable infants – birthing at the same time ensures a lower ratio of predators to prey. The effect will also increase foraging time for adults, as the herds must move slower with infants, resulting in an expansion of territory because increased numbers require more space and more foraging – forcing individuals to disperse and establish new territories.
We see similar behaviour in many of our migratory species, like those that migrate across the Serengeti for example. You’ve probably seen the images of hills blackened by millions of wildebeest moving in unison, but if the rains are late – they do not cross the famed Grumeti and Mara Rivers, but rather stay in one area and disperse over hundreds of kilometres. Then, only when the river floods do they cross. This may sound daft, as a large number of wildebeest then drown and get taken by crocodiles, but instead – they know that when the river floods, it’s because there has been rain inland – and the flowing rivers mean that there will be food and water available at their journey’s end. Rather ingenious if you ask me.
If you’re planning on visiting the African bush anytime soon, and want to see your share of adorable, mini wildlife, then these are some of our favourites spots.
WILDEBEEST: Southern Serengeti, Tanzania
The Great Wildebeest Migration is just that – “great”! It has long drawn visitors to the Serengeti to witness this magnificent spectacle, but for just two weeks in February every year – the whole mega herds of wildebeest drop their calves. This is a truly overwhelming sight, but be warned – when the herds calve, it becomes a smörgåsbord for the predators in the area, so it’s not for sensitive viewers.
ANTELOPE: Masai Mara, Kenya
January until March brings higher rainfall to this region than other months do in Kenya – but don’t let this put you off. The electrical storms that roll over the Mara during this time of year are truly awesome to witness.
Kenya’s Masai Mara has a high concentration of antelope all year round, but they give birth here in the rainy season – thanks to the increased availability of food and water. You can see many different species like topi, impala, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, and so many more. If you’re lucky enough – you will also get to see the warthog babies that are born around the same time each year.
BIG CATS: All over southern Africa
There’s nothing cuter than a giant kitty! But our big cats breed all year round, rather than sticking to a breeding season. This doesn’t mean you won’t see any cubs. It just means that no matter when you travel – if you go somewhere with a high concentration of big cats like lion, cheetah and leopard, your chances of spotting a spotty cub are high.
The majority of Africa’s last wild lions are to be found in the East African countries of Tanzania and Kenya, and the Southern African countries of Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
ELEPHANT: All over southern Africa
Bigger isn’t always better – but when it comes to elephant calves – bigger is most certainly better, and not just in size! Baby elephants have huge personalities to match, and will spend hours playing in the mud, and watching a baby elephant discovering its own trunk is just too precious for words.
Again, elephants breed all year round, but if you go to an area where there’s a high density of pachyderms, you’re sure to see some breeding herds with smaller babies.
Your best places to see these mini-giants are Kenya, Zambia, Northern Tanzania, Namibia, and of course South Africa – which includes Addo Elephant National Park; the home to one of the densest African elephant populations on earth.