One common misconception about wildebeest is that although they may look like buffalo, they are, in fact, not the same species. The wildebeest is a grass-eating animal that lives throughout Africa and is one of the most famous African migrating animals. They are not only renowned for their migratory behavior but also for their large herds.
Let’s explore 10 incredible facts about the wildebeest.
1. There Are Two Different Types of Wildebeest
There is a blue wildebeest and a black wildebeest. Blue wildebeests have dark grey colored coats with black tails and dark beards. Black wildebeests are smaller with brownish black body hair and a white tail. Both species are social animals and live in large herds. Both wildebeest species can coexist in the same area because they eat different parts of the same grass, eliminating the risk of food competition. Although they are both social animals, blue wildebeest are known to interact with other animals in the area, like zebras.
2. Wildebeest Live From Kenya to the Tip of South Africa
Wildebeests cover a large area of Africa.
Wildebeests prefer areas that are not overly wet but also not too dry. This preference for a moderate environment is why wildebeests, specifically the blue ones, inhabit dense bushland, open grasslands, and woodland floodplains from Kenya to South Africa. Black wildebeest will also live in these areas but prefer to live in the South African Highveld region.
3. Wildebeest Only Eat Grass
Wildebeest are strictly grazers and only feast on sweet, thick grasses. These animals often find this food source in areas that have experienced recent fires. After the tall, dense brush has burned, the fresh vegetation begins sprouting. The grasses are sweet and nutritious and a firm favorite. If wildebeest cannot find this food source, they follow other herds of animals that graze and eat dry, longer grasses. The wildebeest will consume succulent plants and karoo bushes if no grass is available. Wildebeests typically feed from sunrise until midday and then in the cooler part of the late afternoon until sunset.
4. They Are Quite Territorial
Female wildebeest form small herds with their young, but their territories often overlap. Because of this, cows (the females) will often switch between small herds. Once the male young reach one year, they leave their mother and join a bachelor herd. After four or five years, the males become highly territorial and leave the bachelor herd. Males, known as bulls, will challenge each other through various rituals. Examples are bucking, snorting, pawing at the ground, fighting, and grunting. One of the most famous ways wildebeest battle is by getting on their front knees and placing their foreheads on the ground before knocking heads and horns.
5. Wildebeest Migrate Annually
Once a year, the wildebeest in the Serengeti-Mara will migrate in a circle of 500 to 1,000 miles. The migration begins in the southeastern Serengeti after their calves are born in January and February. Then they travel across the short-grass plains before reaching Lake Victoria. Once there, they travel towards open woodlands before reaching the Mara in the north. Eventually, the wildebeests will return home to the south. Because these animals cross plains in large numbers and swim across large bodies of water, many separate from the herd, become injured, or even die during their massive trek.
6. Wildebeests Live In Large Herds for Protection
Wildebeests attract predators like spotted hyenas, lions, and leopards. These animals have distinctive colors and large sizes, so they cannot easily camouflage themselves. Because of this, they live in large herds, which offer protection. When a predator confronts a group of wildebeest, they will cluster together and stomp on the ground while making loud calls to alert the rest of the herd to the danger.
7. Wildebeest Become More Aggressive During the Mating Season
Mating season begins at the full moon, but territorial males can mate at any time. The herd creates breeding clusters of approximately 150 wildebeests. Within these clusters, five or six dominant bulls will create territories and guard the females. The bulls mark their territory by urinating, defecating, and spreading secretions by rubbing their heads against objects or each other. If a bull greets a cow, it will try to mount or herd her. If the cow allows the bull to mount her, they will mate twice per minute. Bulls will also not eat or sleep due to excitement if there are cows in the area.
8. Cows Give Birth in the Herd’s Center
Cows carry one calf and give birth in the center of the herd. They engage in this behavior for safety in place of privacy. Most of the pregnant cows within a herd give birth in two to three weeks. There are vulnerable little calves everywhere at this stage, but there is safety in numbers. Once the calf is born, the mother will start licking it until it is clean. The calf will then imprint on the mother after the first suckling. Calves are yellow to brown at birth but change color after two months. Calves suckle on their mother for roughly four months but start eating grass after ten days old.
9. Cows Are Pregnant For Almost As Long As Humans
Another wildebeest fact is that the cows are pregnant for eight to 8.5 months. They reach sexual maturity at 16 months but only mate once they are roughly 28 months. Cows conceive easily because the peak of their breeding period is at the end of the rainy season. This timing means that they will carry their offspring in a comfortable climate.
10. Bulls’ Horns Are Twice the Size of Cows’ Horns
Bulls’ horns are roughly 33 inches high, while cows’ horns are between 12 to 16 inches tall. Their horns curl away from their heads, and the base becomes rougher as the wildebeest ages. Blue wildebeest grow to 4.5 feet tall and weigh roughly 600 pounds. The black wildebeest, or the white-tailed gnu, reaches about 3.93 feet and weighs around 452 pounds.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Anna-Carina Nagel
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- South African National Biodiversity Institute, Available here: https://www.sanbi.org/animal-of-the-week/11091/
- African Travel Canvas, Available here: https://africantravelcanvas.com/experiences/safaris/african-animal-facts-interesting-facts-about-wildebeest/
- Natural Habitat Adventures, Available here: https://www.nathab.com/know-before-you-go/african-safaris/southern-africa/wildlife-guide/wildebeest/