Wildebeest

Connochaetes Taurinus

Last updated: January 20, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Chris Eason / Creative Commons / Original

Can trek more than 1,000 miles every year!

Wildebeest Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Artiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Genus
Connochaetes
Scientific Name
Connochaetes Taurinus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Wildebeest Conservation Status

Wildebeest Locations

Wildebeest Locations

Wildebeest Facts

Main Prey
Grass, Leaves, Shoots
Habitat
Grass plains and bush covered savanna
Predators
Lion, Cheetah, Hyena, Wild Dog, Crocodile
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
1
Lifestyle
  • Herd
Favorite Food
Grass
Type
Mammal
Slogan
Can trek more than 1,000 miles every year!

Wildebeest Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Tan
Skin Type
Hair
Top Speed
50 mph
Lifespan
15-20 years
Weight
136-272kg (300-600lbs)

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A wildebeest is a version of an antelope. They have horns whether they are male or female. While they are territorial, they are also known for being playful, energetic, and active. Of all the antelopes in Africa, the wildebeest population has grown from 250,000 alive in 1960, and 1.5 million as of 2020.
 

©A-Z-Animals.com

Top Facts

  • Wildebeest are animals that can run as fast as 50mph
  • The two main species are blue wildebeest and black wildebeest
  • Two million wildebeest migrate every year
  • Wildebeest mate in groups of 150

Scientific Name

While the common name for this animal is the Blue Wildebeest, its scientific name is Connochaetes taurinus. It is also referred to as a gnu (pronounced ‘g-new’). The class of animals it falls under is Mammalia and the family is called Bovidae. Its subfamily is Alcelaphinae. Though this animal has five subspecies, only two of its species still exist. The subspecies are albojubatus, cooksoni, johnstoni, mearnsi, and tauinus. The most common type of this animal is the Blue Wildebeest, which is related to the Black Wildebeest.

In African countries, the animal known as gnu was given the nickname Wildebeest. In English, this translates to the wild beast. In England in 1823, a naturalist named William John Burchell was the world’s first to describe the Blue Wildebeest. The wildebeest’s scientific name was formed using two Greek words that help describe the animal’s physical appearance.
 

In African countries, the animal known as the gnu was nicknamed the wildebeest, which means wild beast in English.

©iStock.com/Wayne Marinovich

Types of Wildebeest

There are only two main species of wildebeest, both of which inhabit Eastern and Southern Africa:

  • Black Wildebeest (C. gnou) – Native to South Africa,  Swaziland, and Lesotho. Other names: white-tailed gnu. They form breeding herds of 10 up to 60 and graze open grasslands. They’ve been trophy hunted to near extinction and are listed as Endangered.
  • Blue Wildebeest (C. taurinus) – Native to Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Other names: brindled gnu, white-bearded gnu. They are most numerous in the Serengeti, numbering over 1 million and listed as being of Least Concern.

The Blue Wildebeest has 5 subspecies listed below:



  • Common Wildebeest – Native to Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola. Other names: blue wildebeest, brindled gnu
  • Nyassaland Wildebeest – Native to Mozambique and Tanzania.
  • Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest – Native to the Gregory Rift Valley from Tanzania to Kenya.
  • Western White-bearded Wildebeest – Native to north Tanzania and southern Kenya.
  • Cookson’s Wildebeest – Native to Luangwa Valley in Zambia.
The common Blue Wildebeest or Brindled Gnu is the most numerous species of wildebeest with a population of about 1.5 million.

©iStock.com/CreativeNature_nl

Evolution

Research has shown that the black wildebeest became its own distinct species close to a million years ago during the Middle Pleistocene Era. The earliest dated fossils for this species can be dated to 800,000 years old. It appears that this animal split due to adopting certain traits to help it survive in its specific habitat, rather than to compete for food with other animals.

Fossils of the blue wildebeest date back further to 2.5 million years, found in caves at the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg, South Africa.

Appearance & Behavior

The Wildebeest is not properly proportioned. The animal has a heavy front end but its hindquarters and legs are skinny. The wildebeest has a head shaped like a rectangle, and broad shoulders. Its large muzzle matches the wideness of its forequarters, which includes big muscles.

Not every wildebeest is the same color. Some have a light gray brush while others are a color closer to blue-gray. The darkest wildebeests are a gray-brown color. On their shoulders are dark brown stripes that cross their body vertically. Wildebeest have a black mane, which is thick and long. They have long beards on their neck, which can be dark or pale.

Wildebeests are animals that also have horns that curl away from their head. A male wildebeest has horns that are twice the size of a female wildebeest. For male wildebeest, the horns are 33 inches (half the height of the average refrigerator) and the female’s horns are anywhere from 12 to 16 inches (or 30 times longer than an aspirin pill.) Their horns base will become rougher as they age.

The blue wildebeest typically grows to a height of 4 1/2 feet, or 3 1/2 times taller than a bowling pin. They can also weigh as much as 600 pounds or roughly half the weight of a polar bear. They travel in herds of at least 1,000 when they travel for migration purposes.

Their habitat is one where Wildebeest roam freely while living near each other. They are very protective of their territory. It is not unusual for 270 of them to live in areas measuring one square kilometer.

Sometimes herds will stay in their territory while others will constantly be moving. However, every wildebeest rests at nighttime or when the air temperature is hot. The times of day they are the most active are all morning and into the early hours of the afternoon.

Approximately 50% of a wildebeest’s life is spent resting. 33% of their life is dedicated to grazing and 12% of it is spent interacting with other wildebeest.

Wildebeest Grazing For Food
Wildebeests are animals that have horns that curl away from their head, with the male’s horns being twice the size of a female’s.

Habitat

Wildebeest make their home in woodlands and grassy plains. They mostly live in various parts of Eastern Africa. This includes Kenya and Serengeti, Tanzania. In the southern part of Africa, Wildebeest live close to the South African Orange River. This animal prefers to live in the savannahs of Acacia. The grass grows quickly due to the moisture of the soil and is great for finding abundant grass to eat while grazing. 

Though wildebeest normally live with each other, they are also known to temporarily live with the zebras they encounter in the plains. This is because zebras will eat away the top layer of grass so that the wildebeest can get to what is underneath.
 

Though wildebeests normally live with each other, they are also known to temporarily live with the zebras they encounter in the plains.

©Key45 / CC BY 2.0 – License

Diet

Due to their diet, wildebeest are always traveling. They constantly look for water (which they drink twice per day) and grass. When the weather is dry they graze on fresh grass and then travel back home before the rainy season begins. At the end of the rainy season, they return to the area and graze again. Because wildebeests have wide mouths they can eat a lot of grass very quickly. When grass isn’t freely growing, they search for shrubs and trees to eat.

When weather conditions are dry, wildebeests enjoy grazing on fresh grass.

©DEMOSH / Creative Commons

Predators & Threats

Wildebeest are the most vulnerable to larger carnivores including:

  • Lions
  • Hyenas
  • Leopards

The larger a wildebeest is the more vulnerable it is to its prey. To protect themselves, a group of wildebeest will come together and begin stomping the ground. They also let out loud calls to make sure the herd knows they are in danger.

Something else that threatens wildebeest is the fragmentation of their habitat. This happens if the grass they graze on is suddenly blocked with a fence. As agriculture and civilization continue to expand, and water sources continue to decline in certain areas, the lives of the world’s wildebeest are being increasingly put at risk. As one example there is no longer any Wildebeest living in Malawi. Fortunately in Namibia, their population is rising.

Despite some of these challenges, they are not at risk enough to be considered endangered. While the Serengeti has seen an increasing number of wildebeest in recent years, they have been slowly disappearing from other parts of the world. This is partly because they are competing with livestock for their necessities. Wildebeest are known for destroying the crops they find. As a result, farmers will often kill them and put up fencing to keep more from coming in. The only way wildebeest will be able to avoid extinction is through conservation efforts.
 

Lion - Feline, Eating, Animals Hunting, Male Animal, Africa
Lions are one of the most threatening predators of wildebeests.

©iStock.com/diane39

Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

When a male wildebeest is three or four years old they are ready to mate with females. To attract a female they secrete and expel feces into their territory. If a male tries to enter their territory the wildebeest will fight for it. If a female enters, he will try to mate with her. Female wildebeest are pregnant for 8 1/2 months before giving birth. The mating season is timed so that baby wildebeest are born during the rainy months of February and March. Of all pregnant wildebeest, 80% give birth to their babies over the span of two to three weeks, just in time for plenty of grass to be available to them. While similar animals give birth alone, a wildebeest may give birth with her herd surrounding her. Baby wildebeest are referred to as calves.

Once baby wildebeest are born it only takes a few minutes before they can stand up and run. They stay close to their mothers to avoid being eaten by animals such as hyenas, lions, cheetahs, and even wild dogs. For the first six months of his or her life, a baby wildebeest gets milk from its mother. When they reach 10 days old they can begin eating grass. As soon as a male wildebeest is one year old it is able to go off on its own. It then finds other wildebeest to form a group with.

In the case of blue variety wildebeest, the males become ready to breed when they reach two years of age. Most female blue wildebeest can begin breeding after they have turned 16 months old when they have been properly nourished during their young life.

Since they eat newly grown grass, the rate of success when mating is around 95%. It has been proven that the lunar cycle also affects their breeding cycle. On nights with a full moon, males have a very high testosterone level. This means that their mating call is much stronger than it would be otherwise. Since males are more motivated to breed, females become the same way.

The average lifespan of female and male wildebeest means they will survive for 20 years. The oldest record age of any wildebeest is 40 years.

Population

As many as 500,000 wildebeest are born between February and March each year. This is when the rainy season begins in its natural habitat.

As of 2018, the African population of wildebeest was approximately 1,550,000. They are continually being born at the Serengeti National Park, which is in Tanzania. Due to the growing number of wildebeest, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has the status of both the blue and black wildebeest as Least Concern (LC).

Some East African populations of blue wildebeest have a long distance migration that follows the rainy and dry season annual pattern.

©iStock.com/MrRuj

Migration

Many species of wildebeest are migratory but not all. For example, the black wildebeest herds will wander but won’t migrate. Bulls may occupy territories about 300 to 1300 ft apart, however, this spacing may vary depending on the richness of the habitat. Female herds have home ranges of about 250 acres in size. Herds of nonterritorial males roam at will and don’t have any type of restrictions to where they wander.

On the other hand, blue wildebeest have both migratory and sedentary populations. Females and young groups of about 10 may join larger groups to migrate.

Additionally, each year some East African populations of blue wildebeest have a long-distance migration that follows the rainy and dry season annual pattern. It may vary from year to year, however, it usually happens during May or June in East Africa.

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About the Author

Abby Parks has authored a fiction novel, theatrical plays, short stories, poems, and song lyrics. She's recorded two albums of her original songs, and is a multi-instrumentalist. She has managed a website for folk music and written articles on singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other things folk-music oriented. She's also a radio DJ for a folk music show. As well as having been a pet-parent to rabbits, birds, dogs, and cats, Abby loves seeking sightings of animals in the wild, and has witnessed some more exotic ones such as: Puffins in the Farne Islands, Southern Pudu on the island of Chiloe (Chile), Penguins in the wild, and countless wild animals in the Rocky Mountains (Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Moose, Elk, Marmots, Beavers).

Wildebeest FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How Far Do Wildebeest Migrate?

When wildebeest get together to migrate, they take an 1800 mile journey.

Why Do Wildebeest Migrate?

Wildebeest most commonly migrate to find readily accessible drinking water. In East Africa, the wet rainy season ends after June which typically prompts a large migration.

Are Wildebeest Aggressive?

Wildebeest looks like aggressive animals. Yet, they are ordinarily docile. They are only aggressive when they are in their breeding season. Males will chase other males away so they can get the female.

Why Are Wildebeest Named Wildebeest?

A Wildebeest is called its name because in Dutch it means a wild beast, and in Africa, it means wild cow. This is why baby wildebeest are called calves.

Do Wildebeests Attack Humans?

It is very rare for a wildebeest to attack a human being. They only attack if they are held in captivity and a human comes into their territory.

What Are Wildebeest Good For?

Wildebeest are a vital species in a complicated web of life that includes plants, animals, predators, and prey. Their dung acts as fertilizer for the wide ranging areas they migrate. They also act as an important food source for carnivores like lions and hyenas. Wildebeest hide can be used for leather, and the meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Africa.

Can You Eat A Wildebeest?

In certain parts of Africa, people do eat wildebeest. They are included in a stew called bitlong. They are tough meat that has been compared to Elk.

Are Wildebeest herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Wildebeest are Herbivores, meaning they eat plants.

What Kingdom do Wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeest belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeest belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeest belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do Wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeest belong to the family Bovidae.

What order do Wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeest belong to the order Artiodactyla.

What genus do Wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeest belong to the genus Connochaetes.

What type of covering do Wildebeest have?

Wildebeest are covered in Hair.

In what type of habitat do Wildebeest live?

Wildebeest live in grass plains and bush-covered savannas.

What do Wildebeest eat?

Wildebeest eat grass, leaves, and shoots.

What are some predators of Wildebeest?

Predators of Wildebeest include lions, cheetahs, and crocodiles.

What is the average litter size for a Wildebeest?

The average litter size for a Wildebeest is 1.

What is an interesting fact about Wildebeest?

Wildebeest can trek more than 1,000 miles every year!

What is the scientific name for the Wildebeest?

The scientific name for the Wildebeest is Connochaetes Taurinus.

What is the lifespan of a Wildebeest?

Wildebeests can live for 15 to 20 years.

How fast is a Wildebeest?

A Wildebeest can travel at speeds of up to 38 miles per hour.

What are the differences between a buffalo and a wildebeest?

The greatest differences between a buffalo and a wildebeest include their morphology, behavior, and location.

Buffaloes are large, partially migratory ungulates with a brown, black, or reddish color and large horns that form a boss on the animals’ heads from most of sub-Saharan Africa. Wildebeests are smaller ungulates with gray or brown hair and stripes in some cases with a shaggy mane and a head carried above the shoulders that live in migratory herds in the southern third of Africa.

What is the difference between a gnu vs a wildebeest?

The only difference between a gnu vs a wildebeest is the origin of their name. The term ‘wildebeest’ originates from South African Dutch, and it means “wild beast”. Meanwhile, the term ‘gnu’ comes from a Khoisan language. Aside from the name, there are no other differences between these animals. The terms are used interchangeably.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals

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