The word, “Wildebeest,” conjures up epic imaginations of hundreds of this 290-pound animal migrating across Tanzania and Kenya in search of greener pastures. The wildebeest migration across the East African Savanna is truly a sight to behold, but have you ever stopped to wonder why they migrate? Mammals are by no means simple creatures, but there is one force that drives us all: food. Not only is food availability a vital part of understanding large mammal migration, but it is also paramount in analyzing how the magnificent herbivores of East Africa interact with one another. Through these interactions, grazing from one species can facilitate grazing by another.  

First and foremost, what does facilitation mean? Simply put, facilitation is where one species interacting with another benefits at least one of the participants, and neither is harmed. Basically, herbivores on the African savanna help one another. To outline this, we will follow the animals on the plains of the Serengeti. 

The long grasses swaying in the world-renowned Serengeti are a beacon to the zebras and species alike that crave the long grass stems that many of us envision as a staple of these plains. Following close behind the zebra, are the spectacular wildebeest herds. Their tastes differ from the zebras’ choice diet and they graze the grasses down to short heights, all the while trampling them as they lumber along. It is in this way that one species facilitates another. Recall that the zebras preferred the long stemmed grasses. Thomson’s gazelles, on the other hand, prefer short grasses. How perfect is it that once the zebras and wildebeests have meandered through that all that is left are short grasses…perfect for the Thomson’s gazelle.

These species help one another because while they all inhabit the same biome, they require slightly different resources; this allows them to live in harmony.