Connochaetes gnou (Black wildebeest, White-tailed gnu)

Swartwildebees [Afrikaans]; Weisschwanz gnu [German]; gnou ŕ queue blanche [French]; imbudumo, imbuduma enzima [isiNdebele]; inqu, imbuthuma [isiXhosa]; inkonkoni, inkonkoni enmyama [isiZulu]; podumô, pudumô [Sepedi]; pudumo, mmamononwane [Sesotho]; pudumô [Setswana]; ingongoni [siSwati]; mbutuma [Xitsonga]; khongoni [Tshivenda]; gnu [Khoikhoi]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Cetartiodactyla (even-toed ungulates and cetaceans) > Ruminantia (ruminants) > Family: Bovidae (antelopes and buffalo) > Subfamily: Antilopinae

Connochaetes gnou (Black wildebeest, White-tailed gnu)

Black wildebeest, Muldersdrift, Gauteng, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Connochaetes gnou (Black wildebeest, White-tailed gnu) Connochaetes gnou (Black wildebeest, White-tailed gnu)

Black wildebeest, Benfontein Game Reserve, Kimberley, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Black wildebeest, Klerksdorp, South Africa. [photo Peet van Schalkwyk ©, see also scienceanimations.com]

Black wildebeest are endemic to southern Africa and inhabit the open grassland and scrub woodland habitats, where they graze on grass mainly. They have a characteristic nasal call “ge-nu”, from which the common name gnu is derived. They are dark-coloured with a distinctive white horse-like tail. Bulls defend territories while cows and their young range freely through these territories. There are also bachelor herds.

Identification

The black wildebeest is a one of the larger antelopes, as its name suggests it is black in appearance although the coat is really more dark brown than black. Its long white horse-like tail contrasts with the dark body colour. This leads to its alternative common name of white-tailed gnu. The shoulders are markedly higher than the rump giving it a somewhat bizarre appearance. An erect lighter coloured mane with a black fringe runs from the shoulders to the top of the neck. The head is large with a broad snout, and the face is covered in a brush-like tuft of hairs. A fringe of long dark hair hangs from the throat and chest between the front legs. The distinctive u – shaped horns bend steeply downward from large bosses (bases) over the top of the head, and then project forwards and upwards. Cows have thinner more lightly built horns than the bulls.

Size

Shoulder height 1.2 m; weight 100 - 180 kg; average horn length 52 cm.

Dental Formula

 I C P M = 30

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to southern Africa: natural distribution extends widely over Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State, the western region of KwazuluNatal and northwards into the North West Province, Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Its favoured habitat is open grassland and low scrubland with water available.

General behaviour

During the hot summer days black wildebeest lie up during the heat of the day, and limit their activity to the cool periods in early morning and late afternoon. During winter when the days are cooler, the midday rest period is reduced and the animals are active for most of the day. They are also active before dawn and after sunset.

Black wildebeest have a social herd structure consisting of territorial males, female herds and bachelor groups. Males defend territories and try to herd cows into their areas during the breeding season (called a rut). Territories are marked using urine, dung and scent secretions as well as elaborate displays preformed by the bulls to attract the cows attention. Herds consisting of cows and their young will range freely through the bulls territories. Bachelor herds are made up of bulls of all ages.

Connochaetes gnou (Black wildebeest, White-tailed gnu)

Black wildebeest males fighting, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]

Food

Predominantly a grazer but it does browse occasionally.

Reproduction

The gestation period is about 250 days with births taking place in the middle of summer. A female gives birth to a single calf, which is able to move with the herd within an hour of its birth. The calf is born without horns, but has small straight horns after 6 months. After about 2 years the characteristic u-shape is evident and the horns are fully developed by the time the animal is 4 years old.

Life span

21 years (maximum)

Conservation

Historically this species was widely distributed and abundant, but its numbers were dramatically reduced in the early 1900s when the black wildebeest was brought to the brink of extinction by hunting and disease. It has since been widely reintroduced to its original range and beyond it. Conservation status is regarded as low risk, but the survival of the species is conservation dependant.

Text by Denise Hamerton


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