African Wildlife – Wildebeest

Wildebeest Running, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Wildebeest, also known as gnus, are large African antelopes belonging to the genus Connochaetes. 

There are two species of wildebeest: the Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and the Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou).

Blue Wildebeest

Scientific Name: Connochaetes taurinus

Habitat: The Blue wildebeest is found in grasslands, savannas, and open woodlands across Southern Africa and East Africa.

Appearance: They have a bluish-grey coat with vertical black stripes on their sides, giving them their name. They have a more robust build compared to black wildebeest.

Behaviour: Blue wildebeest are known for their migration, moving in massive herds to find better grazing opportunities. They are social animals and often form mixed herds with other herbivores such as zebras and antelopes.

Horns: Both males and females of the black wildebeest species have horns. Their horns sweep upwards and then curve forward, forming a distinctive shape.

Conservation Status: Blue wildebeest populations are relatively stable and not considered to be under significant threat.

Black Wildebeest

Scientific Name: Connochaetes gnou

Habitat: The Black wildebeest is native to the grassy plains of South Africa.

Appearance: They have a dark brown to black coat, and both males and females have curved horns. They are more slender in build compared to blue wildebeest.

Behaviour: Black wildebeest are known for their distinctive stiff-legged gallop and are less migratory than blue wildebeest. They tend to occupy more localized territories.

Horns: Both males and females of the black wildebeest species have horns, which curve forward.

Conservation Status: Black wildebeest populations were historically threatened due to hunting and habitat loss, but conservation efforts have helped stabilize their numbers.

Due to their widespread distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa and in various habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, and open woodlands, you are likely to see Blue Wildebeest on safari wherever you go.  However, they are most commonly associated with the great migration in the Serengeti (Tanzania) and the Masai Mara (Kenya), where they can number up to 1.5 million.

Their close relatives ….

Related to the oryx and the gazelle, Wildebeest are the weirdest-looking relative of that family.   Both males and females have curved horns with the tips pointing upwards.  This, combined with their elongated faces, dark eyes, broad muzzles, sparse shaggy manes, high shoulders, long slender legs and tufty tails, you could be mistaken that they are made up of leftover parts of all the other African mammals.

Wildebeest play an important role in the ecosystem

Regardless of their appearance, Wildebeest are essential to the African savannah ecosystem. Their movement helps to disperse nutrients across the landscape. As they graze on grasses, they contribute to the cycling of nutrients through their waste, which enriches the soil and benefits other plants and animals.

Their behaviour, migration, and interactions with other species contribute to the overall balance and biodiversity of the region. Just like cows and horses have different grazing styles (which allows them to complement rather than compete for their food source), Wildebeest and zebra form the same relationship where they maximise grazing capacity, which also provides safety in numbers.

Wildebeest have a strong survival instinct, so they are often the first to alert with a snort when sensing a predator.  This characteristic also sees them venture off first in search of better grazing, which sadly puts them first in line for predation.

The circle of life …

Wildebeest calves are born during the wet season when food is plentiful, and many females synchronise their labour to give birth around the same time.  The calves can stand within minutes of birth, so they can follow their mothers and the herd quickly.