It doesn’t take long out here on the plains and in the woodlands of Tanzania to identify the three perpetual quests that drive wildlife survival: food, water and sex. Food and water for sustenance, sex because survival requires babies, and babies require sex.
Boys of all the species are pretty much ready for action all the time. Except for the primates (in which both genders have sex just for fun), girls need to be ready (in estrous) and willing.
The “willing” is the tricky part.
In some species, the absence of kicking or biting constitutes willingness on the part of the girl. In the case of zebras, which are as common as flies on the savanna, it is pretty much boy meets girl in estrous, girl doesn’t chase boy off, boy scores. That would be the guy at the top of the blog. The guy below didn’t have such luck.
In other species, boys have to compete with one another for girls, and competition can take many forms.
The bright yellow male weaverbird harvests long blades of grass, puts his sophisticated cutting and knot-tying skills to work and weaves an elaborate hanging nest. Once it’s done, he hangs around the opening to advertise new cool pad complete with able nest-builder. The girls flit around checking out the floor plans and construction. Mating follows only when she finds one she likes.
Because the ladies like their nests to be fresh (and what good homemaker wouldn’t?), if a male gets no taker after about two days, he destroys the nest and makes another. Poorer builders have been known to make up to 50 nests in a single mating season before scoring. On the other hand, a superior nest-builder may so wow a girl that she makes a pre-completion purchase, moves in and helps him finish the house. Because the weavers build in colonies, the savannah is filled with trees dangling weaver nests like oversized Christmas tree ornaments.
Wildebeest boys also use real estate to attract girls though with considerably less sophistication. Their tact is to select a plot of grassland (the grassier the better), plop down in the middle of it, fight off any interlopers and wait for the ladies to show up and be wowed by his great grass. Because rutting season is just about to begin, we saw scores of these dudes, each resting regally in a large section of land in a sort of coming-soon advertising blitz.
No surprise : baboons are much wilier. We repeatedly saw boy baboons making a great show of cradling, carrying or picking pests off other guys’ kids to advertise their own attributes as potential fathers. (Boy humans have been known to do the same.) We saw girls practically begging these guys for attention, backing up and rubbing against them, hoping to get lucky.
And then there are the sexy little African jacanas, fondly called “prostitute birds” by the locals. Jacanas are unusual in that girls are the flighty promiscuous ones, and boys are the stay-at-homers.
Girls choose a guy, any guy (guys are always willing) and hang around only long enough to mate and lay eggs. At that point, Mom wings off to find a pretty new face, leaving last week’s boy toy to incubate the eggs and raise a nestful of chicks. The dads are so maternal they have developed ways to fly around while holding babies under their wings.
All this newfound knowledge comes from two days under the tutelage of our English-fluent guide, Paul, who has a college degree in wildlife and about 15 years of guiding to his credit.
More on Paul later. Meanwhile….
In the rear-view mirror:
- Land before time: The early-morning view from the rim of Ngorongoro Crater is otherworldly, a glimpse of paradise before man arrived.
- Lion prides: It gets hot on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater. Lions have learned that, if they lie beside the road, tourist vehicles will stop and create shade. Woe to the vehicle a lion crawls under. There is no driving away until the catnap is over.
- Hippo rafts : Lions live in prides, monkeys in troops, hippopotamus in rafts. We saw rafts of rafts in Ngorongoro.
- Elephant at 1 o’clock: Whoever spots a scene like this alerts the others with a reference to the clock face.
Coming Soon: For the love of wildlife