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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2010 Apr 1;166(2):365-71. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2009.12.005. Epub 2009 Dec 29.

Endocrine patterns of the estrous cycle and pregnancy of wildebeest in the Serengeti ecosystem.

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  • 1Conservation & Research Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, 1500 Remount Road, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA.


Despite the importance of the western white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus mearnsi) to the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, surprisingly little is known about the reproductive physiology of this keystone species. A longitudinal, non-invasive endocrine study was conducted on female wildebeest captured from the Serengeti-Mara migration and maintained for approximately 16 months in large fenced enclosures within the species' natural range. An intact bull was introduced to a female subgroup (n=5), while remaining females (n=10) were unexposed to a male. Fecal progestagen patterns reflected ovarian activity and pregnancy. In non-pregnant animals, luteal and inter-luteal baseline progestagen values differed (p<0.001) over time, thereby allowing identification of recurrent estrous cycles. The average durations of the luteal phase, estrous cycle, gestation, and post-partum anestrus were 14.3+/-0.5, 22.6+/-1.0, 240.8+/-11.7, and 104.1+/-15.6 d, respectively. Annual reproductive patterns indicated a distinctive period of ovarian activity that extended from 13 May through 3 December (203.5+/-29.9 d) with all unmated females displaying from one to 14 estrous cycles. Progestagens were higher (p <0.001) in pregnant (n=4) than non-pregnant (n=10) cows. These data (1) reveal the value of fecal hormone monitoring for establishing the first ever endocrine profiles of female wildebeest in semi-free-living conditions in their native range, and (2) indicate that the species is a seasonal breeder that is polyestrous and a spontaneous ovulator.

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