Connochaetes taurinus (Blue wildebeest)

brindled gnu, brindled wildebeest [English]; blouwildebees [Afrikaans]; Streifengnu [German]; gnou bleu, gnou a queue noire [French]; nyumbu [Swahili]; inkonkoni, imbudumo, imbuduma ehlaza [isiNdebele]; inkonkoni [isiXhosa]; inkonkoni, inkonkoni enombala oluhlaza [isiZulu]; kgkng [Sepedi] [Setswana]; kgokong, kgaranyane [Sesotho]; ngongoni [Shona]; ingongoni, ngongoni [siSwati]; hongonyi [Xitsonga]; khongoni, khongoini [Tshivenda]; kokonu [Lozi]; unzonzo [Yei]; Gaob [Nama] [Damara]

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 taurinus (Blue wildebeest)
Connochaetes taurinus (Blue wildebeest) Connochaetes taurinus (Blue wildebeest)

Blue wildebeest, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Blue wildebeest with calf, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Found in the savanna regions of southern Africa, also with a large population in East Africa. Predominantly a grazer of short green grass. They form large herds, especially when on migration to better grazing grounds. In the breeding season the males try (not always successfully) to hold a territory round their cows, with cows and young in a territory numbering from 2 to 150.

Identification

A larger member of the antelopes the blue wildebeest coat is brindled, dark grey tinged with brown streaks. It has a long black horse-like tail. The shoulders are markedly higher and more robust than the rump, this gives it an ungainly appearance. A dark mane runs from the shoulders to the top of the neck, and a dark beard hangs from the chin to the chest. The head is large with a broad snout, and the face is convex in shape and dark brown to black in colour. Although much lighter the unridged horns are similar in shape to those of the African buffalo, they form bosses at the bass and grow outwards then turn sharply upwards and inwards. Cows have thinner more lightly built horns than the bulls.

Size

Shoulder height 1.5 m; weight 250 kg; average horn length 60 cm.

Dental Formula

 I C P M = 30

Distribution and habitat

Natural distribution extends over the northern regions of southern African sub-region. There is a separate population in Kenya and Tanzania. It prefers open grassland and savannah woodland with water and shade available.

General behaviour

Wildebeest are gregarious with herds usually averaging about 30 members. However, this species can gather in much larger concentration numbering thousands of animals during migrations to new-feeding grounds. The most well known example is the annual migration of thousands of blue wildebeest in the Masai Mara, similar mass migrations take place in Botswana. However, the smaller herds maintain their identity within the larger mass.

Blue wildebeest are active during the day but shelter in shade during the hottest periods. They are also known to be active on moonlit nights, but are not very active when it is dark. During the breeding season bulls are territorial and try to defend a zone around their cows, with a territory containing 2 – 150 cows and their young. However, cows move through the territories and may mate with more than one bull. Outside the breeding season the cows move freely. Bachelor herds are made up of bulls of all ages and usually occur on the fringe of the main herd.

Connochaetes taurinus (Blue wildebeest)

Cheetah chasing down a Blue wildebeest calf, 20 km north of Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi National Park, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ] See the photo's Flickr page for the full story.

Connochaetes taurinus (Blue wildebeest)

Blue wildebeest charging in to rescue its calf from a Cheetah (evidently a different event to the one above), 30 km north of Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi National Park, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ] See the photo's Flickr page for the full story.

Food

Predominantly a grazer of short green grass.

Connochaetes taurinus (Blue wildebeest)

Blue wildebeest herd grazing, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Reproduction

The gestation period is about 250 days. A single calf is born usually during the middle of summer, it can move with the herd within 5 minutes of its birth. The calf is a lighter colour than the adults, more grey brown, with a darker face and a dark vertical stripe. The calf will start to eat grass after 2 weeks but suckles form its mother until about 8 months of age. The calf is born with out horns, but has small straight divergent horns after 6 months. After about 16 month the characteristic is evident and the horns are fully developed by the time the animal is 3 years old.

Life span

20 years (captivity)

Conservation

The mass migration of herds in Botswana has been curtailed by the veterinary cordon fences and has disturbed the traditional routes. Now animals are unable to follow grazing and water and they become trapped against the fences unable to move through and unable to retreat. For this reason, mortalities are much higher than they should be. The long term effect on the population in this region is as yet unknown. Conservation status is regarded as low risk, but the survival of the species is conservation dependant.

Text by Denise Hamerton


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