The Zebra And Wildebeest: Why Do They Travel Together?

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

The annual Great Migration of Wildebeest
The annual Great Migration of Wildebeest / 1001slide via Istock

Animals like humans can be very social, and it is always intriguing to examine how animals interact with each other in the wild.

Ecosystems are built off the relationships of animals.

The predator and prey dynamic is prevalent throughout the animal kingdom, but some animals form symbiotic relationships and rely on each other for survival.

Wildebeest with a herd of zebras
An Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest with a herd of zebras | phototrip via iStock

The zebra and the wildebeest have much in common, and if you ever see them in the wild you may wonder why they travel together.

Africa is filled with deadly predators, and when in such a dangerous region animals must work together to survive.

Let’s take a look at the zebra and wildebeest, and the symbiotic relationship they have.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

What Type of Animals are Zebra

The Zebra, One of Africa's Most Iconic Animals
The Zebra, One of Africa’s Most Iconic Animals / Ruchindra Gunasekara via Unsplash

Zebras are a member of the Equidae horse family and are one of Africa’s most iconic animals.

While you may not know it, there are actually three species of zebra, which are the mountain zebra (E. zebra), the plains zebra (E. quagga), and the Grevy’s zebra (E. grevyi).

The plains zebra is the most common of them all, while the Grevy’s zebra is the largest.

Zebras share a common ancestor with donkeys, and horses.

Donkey and Horse
A horse and a donkey in a farm | Sophie BENARD via iStock

The Grevy’s Zebra is believed to be the first zebra species, diverging from ancient proto-horses around 4 million years ago.

The stripes on a zebra make them stand out, and each individual zebra has a unique pattern, much like a human’s fingerprint.

Grasslands and savanna woodlands are the habitats zebras live in.

If you spot one zebra in the wild others are nearby, as they live in herds.

Group of zebras in the savanna lands
Group of zebras in the savanna lands | cinoby via iStock

The family groups they live in comprise 5 to 20 individuals, typically with one dominant male, and several females and their fouls.

Zebras are herbivores, and spend their time grazing, and feeding on low-lying grass.

They may also browse, and eat leaves, or stems found on bushes.

Zebras have excellent eyesight, which helps them avoid predators.

A Zebra Close-up
A Zebra Close-up | Stephanie LeBlanc via Unsplash

They are odd-toed ungulates and have hooves with only one toe.

Zebra stripes are not just for looks but help confuse predators chasing them.

Strong hooves also allow them to kick any incoming threat. 

What Type of Animals are Wildebeest

A group of Wildebeest
A group of Wildebeest | Charl Durand via Unsplash

Wildebeest belong to the Bovidae family, making them related to animals like antelopes, goats, sheep, and other types of even-toed horned ungulates.

They are also known as the gnu, and there are two species of them, which are the blue, and black wildebeest.

Wildebeest are a staple animal of Africa, easily identifiable by their large heads with curved horns, and thin cow-like bodies.

A Wildebeest looking in the distance
A Wildebeest looking in the distance | Bisakha Datta via Unsplash

They are able to weigh up to 600 lbs. (272 kgs.) and can have a length of up to 8 ft (2.4 m).

Like zebras, wildebeest travel together in large groups.

They live in open woodlands, and grassy plains habitats, with both wildebeest species living in South Africa.

A very social animal, wildebeest lives in large herds.

Wildebeest Herd
Wildebeest Herd | Gerald Corsi via iStock

Females stay with their young, while males may create their own bachelor herd.

Once the sun rises wildebeest begin to graze, feeding on dense grasses.

They also browse plants, and karoo bushes, feeding until the sun sets.

Black wildebeest have a smaller range compared to the blue, and also do not migrate.

group of Black Wildebeest
A group of Black Wildebeest at the Etosha National Park in northern Namibia | Goddard_Photography via iStock

Throughout the year blue wildebeests migrate, following the rain to areas with fresh plant life to feed on.

Over 1.5 million wildebeest travel during this period, going through Tanzania, and Kenya.

During this mass migration, you will not only see over a million wildebeest but up to two hundred thousand zebras with them.

What is the Great Migration

A break from Migration
A break from Migration | Bibhash ( Banerjee via Unsplash

The Great Migration is the largest movement of a herd that occurs on the planet.

It is when thousands of wildebeest and zebras are seen traveling together.

Other antelopes like Grant’s gazelle, eland, impala, and Thomsons’s gazelle join in this mass migration.

Occurring throughout the year in East Africa, animals move from Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya.

Food and water motivate these animals to move in large masses, and they follow the rain patterns across the two countries.

Great migration
Crossing the Mara river during the great migration in Kenya | kaphotokevm1 via iStock

The great migration is an endless cycle of one of the earth’s largest herds moving clockwise through grasslands, and rivers.

Lasting through the year this journey is over 1,200 miles.

With nearly 2 million animals contributing to this large herd, viewing it leaves no question as to why it is considered one of the few wonders of the natural world.

Serengeti National Park offers the best sights of the copious amounts of zebras, and wildebeest in migration.

great migration in Serengeti National Park
The great migration in Serengeti National Park,Tanzania | MrRuj via iStock

July to November gives views unrivaled.

The great migration is an endless cycle, much like the circle of life.

Surprisingly this mass migration only began in the 1960s.

Over 250,000 wildebeests and 32,000 zebras die during the Great Migration, but thousands more are born on this trip.

Why Do Zebras Travel With Wildebeest?

Zebras and wildebeest have a symbiotic relationship.

Safety in numbers is one of the main benefits these animals get traveling in enormous herds.

While zebras and wildebeest create familiar herds made up of members of their own species, they are also seen traveling together in large herds of up to 1,000.

Zebras and Wildebeests Travelling together
Zebras and Wildebeests Travelling together | Wayne Marinovich via Getty Images

Living in such large groups helps them protect themselves from dangerous predators.

Zebras and wildebeest both have traits that help the other survive.

With the senses of the two animals combined, zebras and wildebeest have an easier time finding food and looking out for danger.

Feeding of Migrating Zebras and Wildebeest

Feeding Zebras and Wildebeests
Feeding Zebras and Wildebeests | Mathis Jrdl via Unsplash

Since zebras and wildebeest are both herbivores, you may think traveling together limits the amount of food to go around.

Zebras and wildebeest actually benefit from their migration together, since they have different ways of feeding.

Despite feeding on the same grass, since they feed on different parts of it there is no conflict between the two.

Zebras are able to eat coarse and dry foods, while wildebeest are highly selective in what they eat.

Grazing zebras feed on the top sections of grass, while wildebeest prefer the lower parts.

Zebra eating beautiful green grass after rain
Zebra eating beautiful green grass after rain | Bernet Grobler via iStock

As zebras feed it exposes the lower parts of grass the wildebeest can eat. Once zebras feed it makes it easier for wildebeest to eat.

Traveling together benefits both animals, but zebras are able to tolerate harsher droughts.

Wildebeest have an amazing sense of smell, which helps them lead the herd to water.

They smell rain up to 15 miles away, helping zebras stay in areas that have lots of vegetation, and water to survive.

Strength in Numbers

Can you count all the Zebra and Wildebeest?
Can you count all the Zebra and Wildebeest? | Danielle Barnes via Unsplash

Sticking together in large herds helps both the zebra and the wildebeest increase their rates of survival.

Wildebeest have a strong smell and hearing.

Zebras have adept vision, which helps them follow the large wildebeest herd but also lets them keep a lookout for predators.

Zebras and wildebeest using their senses together allow these animals to stay vigilant, much more than if they traveled alone.

Wildebeest crossing the river while zebras are waiting
Wildebeest crossing the river while zebras are waiting | KenCanning via iStock

If a predator is spotted, calls are used to warn the herd, and the more eyes on the lookout the better.

Zebras use their camouflage stripes to confuse predators. A large herd of running zebras easily disorientates incoming predators.

Lots of wildebeest running creates a stampede, easily killing any animals caught in their terror storm.

The larger a herd, the higher chance each individual has of escaping predators, making it less likely for them to get picked off.

Predators of the Zebra and Wildebeest

The Lion Searching for its Prey
The Lion Searching for its Prey | Fabrizio Frigeni via Unsplash

A plethora of predators inhabits Africa.

Many species that live in the savannas and grasslands build family units to increase their chance of survival.

Lions, hyenas, and wild dogs are some of the dangerous predators zebras and wildebeest face.

Wild dogs and lions run in deadly packs with as many as 40 members, while hyenas are capable of having 100 members in their clan.

The water sources in Africa are just as dangerous as the plains and savannas.

Crocodiles are widespread across all of Africa’s water.

A crocodile attacks a blue wildebeest
A crocodile attacks a blue wildebeest | USO via iStock

Waters infested with crocodiles sometimes are in the path of the zebra and wildebeest migration, and passing them means some will get picked off.

Even solitary hunters like cheetahs and leopards do their best to pick off the animals from the herd.

The zebra and the wildebeest play an important role in the circle of life.

They are a valuable food source for the diverse range of predators that feed on them.

Traveling in herds increases their chance of survival, and zebras and wildebeest rely on each other’s enhanced senses to get by.


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