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Connochaetes taurinus (aka Common Wildebeest, Brindled Gnu)
Wildebeest get their name from an Afrikaans word that means "wild beast," which is a reference to the menacing appearance presented by the animal's large head, shaggy mane, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns.
A large antelope, the wildebeest stands up to 5 feet high at the shoulder, is up to 8 feet long, and weighs up to 600 pounds; males are larger than females. Both sexes have ridgeless horns up to 2.7 feet long , with those of males being thicker and longer than those of females. Color ranges from slate gray to dark brown, with both sexes having characteristic black vertical stripes of longer hair on the back and a patch of long black hair on the throat that looks somewhat like a beard (two subspecies have a white "beard"). The face, mane and tail are also black.
Distribution and Habitat
The blue wildebeest lives in the plains and acacia savannas of southern Africa, with the largest population found in the Serengeti Plains.
Wildebeest are grazers. They will feed on almost any variety of grass, but only take fresh young growth. They will eat tree leaves if grass is not available. Because the grasses on which they live do not store moisture readily, wildebeest need to drink fresh water daily if possible, but can go two or three days if necessary. They feed and drink in the morning and late afternoon and spend the hot part of the day resting in whatever shade is available.
Females and their calves form herds that number from less than a dozen to several hundred individuals; the number of animals per herd and the amount of area each herd occupies depends primarily on food and water supply. Juvenile males form bachelor herds, while sexually mature bulls are solitary.
Although many nature documentaries have featured footage of huge herds of wildebeest moving northward, they are not actually migrating, they are simply following other herds of animals while moving to areas with new grass growth; they will move on to another area once the new grass is gone.
Mating takes place during the dry season (April and May), while herds are moving in search of new food supplies. A mature bull will mate with any female in heat that comes into his territory, and will not eat or sleep as long as any female is in his territory. Although bulls will attempt to keep as many females as possible within their respective territories, cows are free to move between territories and there is little competition for mates. Only mature bulls with their own territories will attempt to mate.
Gestation takes 8-8.5 months, and almost all wildebeest young are born within a three week period just before onset of the rainy season (January to March) of the next year. The calf is able to stand within 15 minutes of birth and can follow its mother soon after. It will be weaned at about one year, after which it will join a peer group until reaching sexual maturity, which takes 4-5 years.
Wildebeest can live up to 20 years in the wild, barring predation.
Wildebeest are very agile. When alarmed they prance about while waving their tails and pawing the ground. If approached, a wildebeest will run a short distance, turn around to see if it is still being pursued, and run again if necessary.
The blue wildebeest is very abundant, but its close cousin the black wildbeest (C. gnou), which was once native to South Africa, is now extinct in the wild.
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This page was last updated on September 25, 2017.