The wildebeest also called the gnu (icon or ˈ ) is an antelope
Antelope is a term referring to many even-toed ungulate species indigenous to various regions in Africa and Eurasia. Antelopes comprise a miscellaneous group within the family Bovidae, encompassing those old-world species that are neither cattle, sheep, buffalo, bison, nor goats...

 of the genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Connochaetes. It is a hooved (ungulate
Ungulates are several groups of mammals, most of which use the tips of their toes, usually hoofed, to sustain their whole body weight while moving. They make up several orders of mammals, of which six to eight survive...

) mammal. Wildebeest is Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 for "wild beast" or "wild cattle" in Afrikaans
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

 (beest = cattle), while Connochaetes derives from the Greek words konnos ("beard
A beard is the collection of hair that grows on the chin, cheeks and neck of human beings. Usually, only pubescent or adult males are able to grow beards. However, women with hirsutism may develop a beard...

") and khaite ("flowing hair"). The name "gnu" originates from the Khoikhoi
The Khoikhoi or Khoi, in standardised Khoekhoe/Nama orthography spelled Khoekhoe, are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group, the native people of southwestern Africa, closely related to the Bushmen . They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD...

 name for these animals, "gnou".

Gnus belong to the family Bovidae, which includes antelopes, cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

, goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

s, and other even-toed horned ungulates. Connochaetes includes two species, both native to Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

: the black wildebeest
Black Wildebeest
The Black Wildebeest or White-tailed Gnu is one of two wildebeest species. The natural populations of this species, endemic to the southern part of Africa, have been almost completely exterminated, but the species has been reintroduced widely, both in private areas and nature reserves throughout...

, or white-tailed gnu (C. gnou), and the blue wildebeest
Blue Wildebeest
The Blue Wildebeest , also called the Common Wildebeest, is a large antelope and one of two species of wildebeest. It grows to 115–145 cm shoulder height and attains a body mass of 168–274 kg. They range the open plains, bushveld and dry woodlands of Southern and East Africa, living for...

, or brindled gnu (C. taurinus). Fossil records suggest that these two species diverged about one million years ago resulting in a northern and a southern species. The blue wildebeest changed very little from the ancestor species, while the black wildebeest took on more morphological changes to adapt to a habitat of open grassland in the south. Today there are five subspecies of the blue wildebeest while the black wildebeest has no living subspecies. In East Africa, the wildebeest is the most abundant big game species, both in population and biomass.


A full grown wildebeest can be 4 inch to 4 inch at the shoulder and weigh 265 pound. They inhabit the plains and open woodlands of Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, especially the Serengeti
The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region in Africa. It is located in north Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya between latitudes 1 and 3 S and longitudes 34 and 36 E. It spans some ....

 National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania, Masai Mara
Masai Mara
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania...

 Game Reserve in Kenya and Liuwa Plain National Park
Liuwa Plain National Park
The Liuwa Plain National Park lies in Western Province, Zambia, west of the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi River near the border with Angola.-History:...

 in Zambia. Wildebeest can live more than 30 years, though their average lifespan is around 20 years. The wildebeest have a broad muzzle shaped like a lawnmower which helps it with eating short grass.

Differences between blue and black wildebeest

The main differences between the black and blue wildebeest are the amount of horn curvature and the color of fur. The blue wildebeest is the bigger of the two species, standing taller and weighing more than the black wildebeest. In males, the blue wildebeest stand 150 cm tall at the shoulder and weigh around 250 kg while the black wildebeest stands 111 to 120 cm tall and weighs about 180 kg. In females, the blue wildebeest have a shoulder height of 135 cm and weigh 180 kg while the black wildebeest females stand 108 cm at the shoulder and weigh 155 kg. The horns of blue wildebeest protrude to the side then curve downwards before curving up back towards the skull while the horns of the black wildebeest curve forward than downward before curving at the upwards at the tips. Blue wildebeest tend to be a dark grey color with stripes, but may have a shiny blue color. The black wildebeest has brown colored fur with a mane that ranges in color from cream to black, and a tail that is cream colored at the end. The blue wildebeest lives in a wide variety of habitats that includes woodland and grassland while the black wildebeest tends to reside exclusively in open grassland areas. The blue wildebeest migrates over long distances in the winter, whereas the black wildebeest does not. The milk of the female black wildebeest contains higher protein, lower fat, and lower lactose content than the milk of female blue wildebeests

Early life

Wildebeest calves are mostly born at the same time (90% are born in a three week timeframe) and this also provides the young with protection. The numbers of wildebeest calves are so vast that each individual’s survival chances are much greater than if a calf was born outside the three week birthing period. Immediately after they are born, wildebeest calves start following their mothers. However, these young calves suffer from high mortality and only those with the best genetic endowments and who have experienced mothers survive through the first few years of life.


Wildebeest are known for their annual migration to new pastures. Wildebeest usually begin their migration in the months of May or June when drought forces them to go on the move. However, if it is a particularly dry year, they may begin their migration earlier than usual because of the decrease in vegetation. The reason that the wildebeest is a migratory animal is because the grass that it feeds on is not a very good provider of energy and minerals, so it has to move around in order to get adequate nutrition. Factors that affect migration include food, water, predators, and also phosphorus level. Phosphorus is a crucial element that is necessary for all life forms, and it has been found that grass during the dry season has a very low phosphorus content, and at an insufficient level for the wildebeest’s survival if it remained stationary. As a result, the wildebeest migrates to other grazing areas to feed on grass that has higher phosphorus. A 1992 study by Ben-Shahar and Coe found that besides phosphorus, wildebeest also migrated to areas where the grass had higher nitrogen levels Ecologists have found that the main reason that wildebeest migrate is to find high quality food during the whole year, although the reduction of predation is another positive benefit.

In 1974, high concentrations of wildebeest decreased green biomass on the Serengeti Plains by close to 400 grams per square meter. However, this grazing was good for the grassland because it kept the net productivity up. There was a significant association of Thomson's Gazelle
Thomson's Gazelle
The Thomson's gazelle is one of the best-known gazelles. It is named after explorer Joseph Thomson and, as a result, is sometimes referred to as a "tommie"...

 grazing in areas that had been already frequented by wildebeest Numerous documentaries feature wildebeest crossing river
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

s, many being eaten by crocodiles or drowning in the attempt. While having the appearance of a frenzy, recent research has shown that a herd of wildebeest possesses what is known as a "swarm intelligence
Swarm intelligence
Swarm intelligence is the collective behaviour of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial. The concept is employed in work on artificial intelligence...

", whereby the animals systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one. Major predators that feed on wildebeest include the lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

, hyena
Hyenas or Hyaenas are the animals of the family Hyaenidae of suborder feliforms of the Carnivora. It is the fourth smallest biological family in the Carnivora , and one of the smallest in the mammalia...

, cheetah
The cheetah is a large-sized feline inhabiting most of Africa and parts of the Middle East. The cheetah is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx, most notable for modifications in the species' paws...

, leopard
The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its...

, and crocodile
A crocodile is any species belonging to the family Crocodylidae . The term can also be used more loosely to include all extant members of the order Crocodilia: i.e...

, which seem to favor the wildebeest. Wildebeest, however are very strong and can inflict considerable injury to even a lion. Wildebeest have an apparent maximum running speed of around 64 km/h (39.8 mph). The primary defensive tactic is herding, where the young animals are protected by the older larger ones while the herd runs as a group. Typically the predators attempt to cut out a young or ill animal and attack without having to worry about the herd. Wildebeest have developed additional sophisticated cooperative behaviors, such as animals taking turns sleeping while others stand guard against a night attack by invading predators. Scientists are unsure how much is learned behaviorally and how much is hard wired into the DNA of the animal. Wildebeest migrations are closely followed by vultures, as wildebeest carcasses are an important source of food for these scavengers. The vultures consume about 70% of the wildebeest carcasses available. Decreases in the number of migrating wildebeest have also had a negative effect on the vultures. In recent years, Botswanan authorities placed thousands of kilometers of fences across the Kalahari. These fences prevented wildebeests from reaching watering holes and grazing grounds, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals, and dropping the wildebeest population to less than ten percent of its previous size. For the blue wildebeests, although the majority of the population migrates, there are some populations that do not migrate and live a sedentary lifestyle. These groups can be found in the Ngorongoro Crater, Selous, Hwange, and Esotha.

Interactions with Non-predators

Zebras are several species of African equids united by their distinctive black and white stripes. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals that live in small harems to large herds...

s and wildebeest group together in open savannah environments when there is a high chance of predation. This grouping strategy reduces predation risk because larger groups decrease each individual’s chance of being hunted, and also because predators are more easily seen in open areas.

Wildebeest can also listen in on the alarm calls of other species, and by doing so can reduce their risk of predation. One study showed that along with other ungulates, wildebeests responded more strongly to the baboon alarm calls compared to the baboon contest calls even though both types of calls had similar patterns, amplitudes, and durations. The alarm calls were a response of the baboons to lions, and the contest calls were recorded when there was a dispute between two males.

Breeding and Reproduction

Due to their migratory ways, the wildebeest do not form permanent pair bonds or defend a set territory. The wildebeest mating season is called rut
RUT may refer to:* Rol Único Tributario, the Chilean taxation unique contributor roll identification number* Rutland Railway, a former railroad in the northeastern United States...

, and during this time the males establish temporary territories and try to attract females. These small territories are about 3000 square meters, with up to 300 territories in a square kilometer. The males defend these small territories from other males while trying to lure in females that are ready to mate. The males entice females into their territories with grunts and distinctive antics. Wildebeest usually breed at the end of the rainy season when the animals are most fit. The mating season usually occurs between May to July and the birthing period usually takes place between January to March, at the start of the wet season. The gestation period is about 8 to 9 months, and the average estrous cycle
Estrous cycle
The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiologic changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females. Estrous cycles start after puberty in sexually mature females and are interrupted by anestrous phases or pregnancies...

 is about 23 days. Wildebeest females breed seasonally and ovulate spontaneously. Groups of wildebeest females and young live in the small areas established by the male. When groups of wildebeest join together, there is a larger female to male ratio as the females flock to the areas held by fewer males. It has also been suggested that this female dominated sex ratio may be due to illegal hunting and human disturbance. Higher male mortality has been attributed to illegal hunting.


Due to their confinement in small areas in South Africa, the two species of wildebeest, the black wildebeest and the blue wildebeest have interbred, resulting in fertile hybrid young. These two species are brought into close contact with each other on game farms and reserves in South Africa. The resulting hybrid young may include characteristics of both species and even some intermediate traits. The hybrids also tended to have strange dental, horn, and skull shapes.

Human Uses

Wildebeest are killed for food, especially for biltong
Biltong is a kind of cured meat that originated in South Africa. Many different types of meat are used to produce it, ranging from beef through game meats to fillets of ostrich from commercial farms. It is typically made from raw fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle, or...

, which is dried game meat. Biltong is a delicacy and an important food item in Africa. It has been found that the meat of females is more tender than that of males, and that meat was the most tender during the autumn season. Wildebeest are a regular target for illegal meat hunters because they are relatively easy for hunters to kill. When preparing the wildebeest, the carcass is usually cut into 11 pieces. The estimated price for wildebeest meat is about US$ 0.47 per kilogram.

External links

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