The White-tailed Gnu or Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) is a stocky, thick-coated antelope with horns that swing down, forward, and upward in tight, angular hooks. The long muzzle is broad, flat-fronted, and covered in dense black fur. The overall color is dark brown, but with a black "beard" and chest tassels. The upright hairs of the mane are whitish with conspicuously black tips. Toward the rear of the animal, the sharp angle of the pelvic bone is prominent.
Although mainly a grazer, the White-tailed Gnu browses woody plants extensively in the winter. Historically, the White-tailed Gnu was migratory over large portions of the Karoo and Highveld in Southern Africa. It moved between temperate grasslands in the Highveld to the east in the winter and Karoo shrublands to the west in the rainy summer. By the mid-19th century, these large-scale movements had been disrupted by European settlement and this gnu had been brought close to extinction. It is now extinct in the wild, but by the mid-1990s the captive population (distributed across many small farms) was around 10,000, up from a world population low of around 300 to 600 individuals.
(Kingdon 1997; Huffman 2011)
Originally, black wildebeest, or white-tailed gnus, ranged the highveld temperate grasslands during the dry winter and the arid karroo during the rains. However, due to hide-hunting in the 19th century, they were reduced to living on protected game farms in southern Africa.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
- Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
Black wildebeest are dark brown to black in color, males being darker in color than females. Both sexes become lighter in coat color in the summer, and develop shaggier coats in the winter. Like common wildebeest, C. gnou possesses a bushy beard and mane. However, C. gnou has a mane that stands up from its neck, rather than draping across the neck, like that of C. taurinus. This bristly mane is cream to white in color and black at the tips. The beard is black in color and stretches only along the lower jaw, not the length of the neck, as in C. taurinus. Additionally, black wildebeest have an area of longer, dark hair between the forelegs, covering the chest, and another patch of bristly black hair along the bridge of the nose. Male C. gnou stand 111 to 121 cm high and can be up to 2m in length, females are slightly smaller. Paired horns curve down, forward, and then up, like hooks, and are up to 78 cm in length (slightly thinner and shorter in females). The base of the horns is widened and flattened to form a protective shield. These differ from C. taurinus in that they project anteriorly, rather than laterally. Scent glands are present preorbitally, under the hair tuft, and on the forefeet.
Dental formula: 0/3, 0/1, 3/2, 3/3 (Talbot 1963)
Range mass: 110 to 157 kg.
Range length: 2 (high) m.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation
- Talbot, L., M. Talbot. 1963. The Wildebeest in Western Masailand. Wildlife Monographs, 12: 8-88.
- Walker, E. 1968. Mammals of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Highveld Grasslands Habitat
This species can be found in the Highveld grasslands ecoregion in southern Africa. This ecoregion now provides the last remaining stronghold of a number of grassland species that have suffered major reductions in abundance in the grassland biome, and which are consequently threatened with extinction (e.g. the Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea). There is a relatively biodiverse vertebrate fauna, with 608 taxa recorded.
The dominant vegetation comprises grasses, with geophytes and herbs also being well represented. Dominant and diagnostic grass species are Thatching Grass (Hyparrhenia hirta) and Catstail Dropseed Grass (Sporobolus pyramidalis). Non-grassy forbs include False Paperbark Thorn (Acacia sieberiana), Rhus vulgaris, Selago densiflora, Spermacoce natalensis, Aandblom (Kohautia cynanchica), and Phyllanthus glaucophyllus. Relatively high precipitation levels sustain the grasslands during the austral summer, with the mean annual range between 400 to 900 millimetres.
The Highveld grassland ecoregion can be divided into three habitat types: (1) Kalahari/Karoo-highveld transition zone; (2) sweet grasslands; and (3) sour grasslands. In the western half of the ecoregion, a gradual transition occurs from the Karoo/Kalahari-highveld transition zone to the grassland habitats of the Highveld. Shrubs and trees grow in the transition zone, although grasses still dominate this zone.
Bird species richness is relatively high within this ecoregion. However, Botha’s Lark (Spizocorys fringillaris) is the only bird species strictly endemic to the ecoregion, where it inhabits heavily grazed grassland. An additional six avian species are near-endemics including White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresii), Blue Korhaan (Eupodotis caerulescens), White-bellied Bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis), Rudd’s lark (Heteromirafra ruddi), the Near Threatened Melodious lark (Mirafra cheniana), Buff-streaked chat (Saxicola bifasciatus), and the Vulnerable Yellow-breasted pipit (Anthus chloris).
This ecoregion contains a higher number of mammals, although only the Orange Mouse (Mus orangiae) is restricted to the ecoregion, and the Rough-haired Golden Mole (Chrysospalax villosa) is near-endemic. The ecoregion also supports populations of several large mammal species, some of which are rare in southern Africa (Stuart and Stuart 1995). Among these are the Vulnerable Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Brown Hyena (Hyaena brunnea), African Civet Cat (Civettictis civetta), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Sable Antelope (Hippotragus niger), Ground Pangolin (Manis temminckii), Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis), African Striped Weasel (Poecilogale albinucha), Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus), Oribi (Ourebia ourebi), and Hartmann's Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae). Herds of large mammals, including Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) and White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), previously occurred in the Highveld grasslands, but were extirpated by the local human population. Other notable mammalian taxa occurring in the ecoregion include the Vulnerable Juliana's golden mole (Neamblysomus julianae).
Relatively few reptile species occur within the Highveld grasslands, mainly due to its cool climate. However, the ecoregion supports some of Africa’s most characteristic reptile species, including Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), African Rock-python (Python sebae), Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) and Veld Monitor (Varanus albigularis albigularis). There are also two strictly endemic reptiles: Giant Girdled Lizard (Cordylus giganteus) and Agama aculeata distanti (Branch 1998). Several additional reptile species are near-endemics, including Drakensberg Rock gecko (Afroedura niravia), the Vulnerable Giant Girdled Lizard (Cordylus giganteus), and Breyer's Whip Lizard (Tetradactylus breyeri) (Branch 1998).
Twenty-nine amphibians occur within the ecoregion but none are endemic (Passmore and Carruthers 1995). Example anuran species in the Highveld grasslands are the Kimberley Toad (Amietophrynus poweri), African Dwarf Toad (Poyntonophrynus vertebralis), who breeds in temporary shallow pans, freshwater pools or depressions containing rainwater; the Red Toad (Schismaderma carens); Cape River Frog (Amietia fuscigula). endemic of the high slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains and Lesotho Highlands; South African Snake-necked Frog (Phrynomantis bifasciatus), typically found under loose sand below large rocks or boulders.
- C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2015. Highveld grasslands. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and Environment. Washington DC
- J.P.H. Acocks. 1988. Veld types of South Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa 57: 1-146. (An update of the first edition published in 1953),
Connochaetes gnou lived in grasslands similar to the habitat of the common wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, when it ranged free. However, with its thicker, darker coat, black wildebeest are able to range farther south than the Orange River, past the edge of the acacia savannah, into colder climates. They rarely seek shade, and need little winter shelter.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
Black wildebeest eat the foliage of karroid bushes and shrubs. They live in somewhat arid regions and can subsist without drinking every day.
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Black wildebeest were once important herbivores in the ecosystems in which they live and served as an important prey base for large predators, especially in calving seasons.
Life History and Behavior
Male wildebeest determine dominance through classic head-ramming and front-pressing behaviors exhibited in most bovids, however the females maintain their rank primarily through head-nods and head-shakes. The white tail is lashed or waved in most C. gnou interactions, signalling anything from dominance to submission, and possibly serving as an auditory signal, as it can be heard up to half a kilometer away.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Black wildebeest can live for 20 years.
Status: wild: 20 (high) years.
Status: wild: 20 years.
Status: captivity: 20.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Dominant males defend access to a harem of females with which they mate. These territorial bulls are able to mate at any time, will call at twice the normal tempo, and may even froth at the mouth. There is suggestion that this calling helps to stimulate and synchronize female estrus, although there is also evidence that the lunar cycle triggers the mating peak. A rutting bull will never eat nor rest, as long as there are females within his territory. There are few courting rituals, besides males herding females with neck outstretched and chin in-line, urination on demand and flehmen (urine scenting). If a receptive female is uncooperative, a bull may rear in front of her with a full erection in a copulatory display. A receptive female will raise her tail when approached by a bull, swishing it across his face. Her tail remains up, sometimes, vertical, during mating, as the cow stands with her legs bowed, back arched. Females mate dozens of times with a male, often 2 or more times in a minute.
Mating System: polygynous
Offspring gestate for 8 to 8.5 months, only 1 extremely precocial calf is born. Calving peaks in November-December (semi-dependent on timing and location of rains). Like C. taurinus, 80-90% of all calves are dropped within the three week birth peak. Calves can stand at 9 minutes post-parturition, and are grazing at least part time within one month. Calves are weaned after 4 months. Females mature at 1.5 to 2.5 years of age, males don't mature until 3 years of age.
Breeding interval: Females breed once yearly.
Breeding season: The breeding season coincides with the end of the rainy season, February to April.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Average number of offspring: 1.02.
Range gestation period: 8 to 8.5 months.
Range weaning age: 6 to 9 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1.5 to 2.5 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 11000 g.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Like most mammals, female black wildebeests nourish their young in utero, and then nurse them for several months after birth. Males provide no care for their young. Calves stay with their mothers until the next calf is born. Black wildebeest calves are capable of standing and running within hours of birth.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents
- Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Connochaetes gnou
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Connochaetes gnou
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Indiscriminate hunting and restriction of the best fertile land for farming has reduced the population sizes of many African antelope, including this species. Connochaetes gnou now exists only in contained populations on game farms and in zoos (Macdonald 1995). The IUCN rates it a species of Least Concern because of the large number of captive individuals.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
- Macdonald, D. 1995. Encyclopedia of Mammals. London, Sydney: George Allen and Unwin.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2003Least Concern(IUCN 2003)
- 2003Least Concern
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Wild gnu are seen as competitors of commercial livestock. As well, many bovine diseases, such as rinderpest, travel from wildebeest to cattle. Wildebeest also carry parasites, including several kinds of ticks, flies, lungworms, tapeworms, and paramphistome flukes.
Negative Impacts: causes or carries domestic animal disease
Black wildebeest are part of the diverse wildlife that attracts tourists for safari.
Positive Impacts: food ; ecotourism
The black wildebeest or white-tailed gnu (Connochaetes gnou) is one of the two closely related wildebeest species. It is a member of the genus Connochaetes and family Bovidae. It was first described in 1780 by Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann. The black wildebeest is typically between 170–220 cm (67–87 in) in head-and-body length, and the average weight is 110–180 kg (240–400 lb). Males stand up to approximately 111–121 cm (44–48 in) at the shoulder, while the height of the females is 106–116 cm (42–46 in). The black wildebeest is characterised by its white, long, horse-like tail. It also has a dark brown to black coat and long, dark-coloured hair between its forelegs and under its belly.
The black wildebeest is a herbivore, and almost the whole diet consists of grasses. Water is an essential requirement. There are three distinct social groups: the female herds, the bachelor herds and the territorial bulls. They are fast runners, and communicate using a variety of visual and vocal communication. The primary breeding season for the black wildebeest is from February to April. A single calf is usually born after a gestational period of about eight and a half months. The calf remains with its mother until her next calf is born a year later. The black wildebeest inhabits open plains, grasslands and Karoo shrublands.
The natural populations of black wildebeest, endemic to the southern part of Africa, were almost completely exterminated in the 19th century, due to their reputation as pests and the value of their hides and meat. However, the species has been reintroduced widely from captive specimens, both in private areas and nature reserves throughout most of Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa. It has also been introduced outside its natural range in Namibia and Kenya.
Taxonomy and evolution
The scientific name of the black wildebeest is Connochaetes gnou. The animal is placed in the genus Connochaetes and family Bovidae and was first described by the German zoologist, Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann in 1780. He based his description on an article written by natural philosopher Jean-Nicolas-Sébastien Allamand in 1776. The generic name Connochaetes derives from the Greek words κόννος, kónnos, "beard", and χαίτη, khaítē, "flowing hair", "mane". The specific name "gnou" originates from the Khoikhoi name for these animals, gnou. The common name "gnu" is also said to have originated from the Hottentot name T'gnu, which refers to the repeated calls of "ge-nu" by the bull in the mating season. The black wildebeest was first discovered in the northern part of South Africa in the 1800s.
The black wildebeest is currently included in the same genus as the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). This has not always been the case and at one time the latter was placed under a separate genus of its own, Gorgon. The black wildebeest lineage seems to have diverged from the blue wildebeest in the mid to late Pleistocene, and became a distinct species around a million years ago. This evolution is quite recent on a geologic time scale.
Features necessary for defending a territory such as the horns and broad-based skull of the modern black wildebeest, have been found in their fossil ancestors. The earliest known fossil remains are in sedimentary rock in Cornelia in the Orange Free State and date back about eight hundred thousand years. Fossils have also been reported from the Vaal River deposits, though it is unclear whether or not they are as ancient as those found in Cornelia. Horns of the black wildebeest have been found in sand dunes near Hermanus in South Africa. This is far beyond the recorded range of the species and it has been suggested that these animals may have migrated to that region from the Karoo.
The black wildebeest is known to hybridise with its taxonomically close relative, the blue wildebeest. Male black wildebeest have been reported to mate with female blue wildebeest and vice versa. The differences in social behaviour and habitats have historically prevented interspecific hybridisation between the species, however hybridisation may occur when they are both confined within the same area. The resulting offspring is usually fertile. A study of these hybrid animals at Spioenkop Dam Nature Reserve in South Africa revealed that many had disadvantageous abnormalities relating to their teeth, horns and the wormian bones in the skull. Another study reported an increase in the size of the hybrid as compared to either of its parents. In some animals the auditory bullae are highly deformed and in others the radius and ulna are fused.
Black wildebeest are sexually dimorphic, with females being smaller in size and more slender than males. The head-and-body length is typically between 170 and 220 cm (67 and 87 in). Males reach approximately 111 to 121 cm (44 to 48 in) at the shoulder, while females reach 106 to 116 cm (42 to 46 in). Males typically weigh 140 to 157 kg (309 to 346 lb) and females 110 to 122 kg (243 to 269 lb). A distinguishing feature in both sexes is the tail, which is long and similar to that of a horse. Its bright-white colour gives this animal the vernacular name of "white-tailed gnu", and also distinguishes it from the blue wildebeest, which has a black tail. The length of the tail ranges from 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in).
The black wildebeest has a dark brown or black coat which is slightly paler in summer and coarser and shaggier in the winter. Calves are born with shaggy, fawn-coloured fur. Males are darker than females. They have bushy and dark-tipped manes that, as in the blue wildebeest, stick up from the back of the neck. The hairs which compose this are white or cream-coloured with dark tips. On its muzzle and under its jaw it has black bristly hair. It also has long, dark-coloured hair between its forelegs and under its belly. Other physical features include a thick neck, a plain back, and rather small and beady eyes.
Both sexes have strong horns that curve forward, resembling hooks and are up to 78 cm (31 in) long. The horns have a broad base in mature males, and are flattened to form a protective shield. In females, the horns are both shorter and narrower. They become fully developed in females in the third year, while it is not before the age of four or five that horns are fully grown in males. The black wildebeest normally has 13 thoracic vertebrae, though specimens with 14 have been reported, and this species shows a tendency for the thoracic region to become elongated. There are scent glands that secrete a glutinous substance in front of the eyes, under the hair tufts and on the forefeet. Females have two nipples. Apart from the difference in the appearance of the tail, the two species of wildebeest also differ in size and colour, with the black being smaller and darker than the blue.
The black wildebeest can maintain its body temperature within a small range in spite of large fluctuations in external temperatures. It shows well-developed orientation behaviour towards solar radiation which helps it thrive in hot, and often shadeless, habitats. The erythrocyte count is high at birth and increases till the age of two to three months, while in contrast, the leucocyte count is low at birth and falls throughout the animal's life. The neutrophil count is high at all ages. The haematocrit and haemoglobin content decreases till twenty to thirty days after birth. There is a peak in the content of all these haemological parameters at the age of two to three months, after which the readings gradually decline, reaching their lowest values in the oldest individuals. The presence of fast-twitch fibres and the ability of the muscles to use large amounts of oxygen help explain the rapid running speed of the black wildebeest and its high resistance to fatigue. Individuals may live for about twenty years.
Diseases and parasites
The black wildebeest is particularly susceptible to anthrax, and rare and widely scattered outbreaks have been recorded and have proved deadly. Ataxia related to myelopathy and low copper concentrations in the liver have also been seen in the black wildebeest. Heartwater (Ehrlichia ruminantium) is a tick-borne rickettsial disease that affects the black wildebeest and, as the blue wildebeest is fatally affected by rinderpest and foot-and-mouth disease, it is believed that the black wildebeest is also likely to be susceptible to these. Malignant catarrhal fever is a fatal disease of domestic cattle caused by a gammaherpesvirus. It seems that, like the blue wildebeest, the black wildebeest acts as a reservoir for the virus and that all animals are carriers, being persistently infected but showing no symptoms. The virus is transmitted from mother to calf during the gestation period or soon after birth.
Black wildebeest act as hosts to a number of external and internal parasites. A study of the animal in Karroid Mountainveld (Eastern Cape Province, South Africa) revealed the presence of all the larval stages of the nasal bot flies Oestrus variolosus and Gedoelstia hässleri. The first instar larvae of G hässleri were found in large numbers on the dura mater of wildebeest calves, specially between June and August, and these later migrated to the nasal passages. Repeated outbreaks of mange (scab) have led to large-scale extinctions. The first study of the protozoa in blue and black wildebeest showed the presence of 23 protozoan species in the rumen, with Diplodinium bubalidis and Ostracodinium damaliscus common in all the animals.
Ecology and behaviour
Black wildebeest are mainly active during the early morning and late afternoon preferring to rest during the hottest part of the day. The animals can run at speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph). When a person approaches a herd to within a few hundred metres, the wildebeest snort and run a short distance before stopping and looking back, repeating this behaviour if further approached. They communicate with each other using pheromones detected by flehmen and several forms of vocal communication. One of these is a metallic snort or an echoing "hick", that can be heard up to 1500 metres (1 mile) away. They are preyed on by animals like lion, spotted hyena, Cape hunting dog, leopard, cheetah and crocodile. Of these the calves are targeted manly by the hyenas, while lions attack the adults.
The black wildebeest is a gregarious animal with a complex social structure comprising three distinct groups : firstly, the female herds, consisting of adult females and their young; secondly, the bachelor herds, consisting only of yearlings and older males; thirdly, the territorial bulls. The number of females per herd is variable, generally ranging from 14 to 32, but is highest in the densest populations and also increases with forage density. There is a strong attachment among members of the female herd, many of whom are related to each other. Large herds often get divided into smaller groups. While small calves stay with their mothers, the older ones form groups of their own within the herd. These herds have a social hierarchy, and the females are rather aggressive towards others trying to join the group. Young males are generally repelled by their mothers before the calving season starts. Separation of a young calf from its mother can be a major cause of calf mortality. While some male yearlings stay within the female herd, the others join a bachelor herd. These are usually loose associations and, unlike the female herds, the individuals are not much attached to each other. Another difference between the female and bachelor herds is the lesser aggression on the part of the males. These bachelor herds move widely in the available habitat and act as a refuge for males that have been unsuccessful as territorial bulls, and also as a reserve for future breeding males.
Mature bulls, generally more than four years old, set up their own territories through which female herds often pass. These territories are maintained throughout the year, with animals usually separated by a distance of about 100–400 m (330–1,310 ft), but this can vary according to the quality of the habitat. In favourable conditions, this distance is as little as 9 m (30 ft), but can be as large as 1,600 m (5,200 ft) in poor habitat. Each bull has a patch of ground in the centre of his territory in which he regularly drops dung, and in which he performs acts of display. These include urinating, scraping, pawing and rolling on the ground and thumping it with his horns - all of which demonstrate his prowess to other bulls. An encounter between two bulls involves elaborate rituals. Estes coined the term "Challenge Ritual" to describe this behaviour for the blue wildebeest, but this is also applicable to the black wildebeest, owing to the close similarity in the behaviour in both species. The bulls approach each other with their heads lowered, resembling a grazing position (sometimes actually grazing). This is usually followed by movements like standing in a reverse-parallel position, in which one male urinates and the opponent smells and performs flehmen, after which they may reverse the procedure. During this ritual or afterwards the two can toss their horns at each other, circle one another, or even look away. Then begins the fight, which may be of low intensity (consisting of interlocking the horns and pushing each other in a standing position) or high intensity (consisting of their dropping to their knees and straining against each other powerfully, trying to remain in contact while their foreheads are nearly touching the ground). Threat displays like shaking the head may also take place.
Black wildebeest are predominantly grazers, preferring short grasses but also feeding on other herbs and shrubs, especially when grass is scarce. Shrubs can comprise as much as 37% of the diet but grasses normally forms more than 90%. Water is essential, though they can exist without drinking water everyday. The herds graze either in line or in loose groups, usually walking in single file when moving about. They are often accompanied by cattle egrets, which pick out and consume the insects hidden in their coats or disturbed by their movements.
Before the arrival of Europeans in the area, wildebeest used to roam widely, probably in relation to the arrival of the rains and the availability of good forage. They never made such extensive migrations as the blue wildebeest but at one time, they used to cross the Drakensberg Range, moving eastwards in autumn, searching for good pastures. Then they returned to the highvelds in the spring and moved towards the west, where sweet potato and Karoo vegetation were abundant. They also moved from north to south as the sourgrass found north of the Vaal River matured and became unpalatable, the wildebeest only consuming young shoots of sourgrass. Nowadays, almost all black wildebeest are in reserves or on farms and the extent of their movements is limited.
In a study of the feeding activities of a number of female black wildebeest living in a shadeless habitat, it was found that they fed mostly at night. They were observed at regular intervals over a period of one year and it was observed that with an increase in temperature, the number of wildebeest feeding at night also increased. During cool weather they lay down to rest but in hotter conditions they rested while standing up.
Male black wildebeest reach sexual maturity at the age of three years but may mature at a younger age in captivity. Females first come into season and breed as yearlings or as two-year-olds. They breed only once in a year.
A dominant male black wildebeest will have a harem of females and will not allow other males to mate with them. The breeding season occurs at the end of the rainy season and lasts a few weeks between February and April. When one of his females comes into oestrus the male concentrates on her and mates with her several times. Sexual behaviour by the male at this time includes stretching low, ears down, sniffing of the female's vulva, performing ritual urination and touching his chin to the female's rump. At the same time, the female keeps her tail upwards (sometimes vertically) or swishes it across the face of the male. The pair usually separates after copulation, but the female occasionally follows her mate afterwards, touching his rump with her snout. During the breeding season, the male loses condition as he spends little time grazing. Males are known to mount other males.
The gestational period lasts for about eight and a half months, after which a single calf is born. Females in labour do not move away from the female herd and repeatedly lie down and get up again. Births normally take place in areas with short grass when the cow is in the lying position. She stands up immediately afterwards which causes the umbilical cord to break, vigorously licks the calf and chews on the afterbirth. In spite of regional variations, around 80% of the females give birth to their calves within a period of two to three weeks after the onset of the rainy season - from mid-November to the end of December. Seasonal breeding has also been reported among wildebeest in captivity in European zoos. Twin births have not been reported.
The calf has a tawny, shaggy coat and weighs about 11 kilograms (24 lb). By the end of the fourth week, the four incisors have fully emerged and about the same time, two knob-like structures, the hornbuds, appear on the head. These later develop into horns which reach a length of 200–250 mm (8–10 in) by the fifth month and are well developed by the eighth month. The calf is able to stand and run shortly after birth, a period of great danger for animals in the wild. It is fed by its lactating mother for six to eight months, begins nibbling on grass blades at four weeks and remains with her until her next calf is born a year later.
Distribution and habitat
The black wildebeest is native to southern Africa. Its historical range included South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, but in the latter two countries it was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. It has now been reintroduced to them and also introduced to Namibia where it has become well established.
The black wildebeest inhabits open plains, grasslands and Karoo shrublands in both steep mountainous regions and lower undulating hills. The altitudes in these areas varies from 1,350–2,150 m (4,430–7,050 ft). The herds are often migratory or nomadic, otherwise they may have regular home ranges of 1 km2 (11,000,000 sq ft). Female herds roam in home ranges around 250 acres (100 ha; 0.39 sq mi) in size. In the past, black wildebeest occurred in the highveld temperate grasslands during the dry winter season and the arid Karoo region during the rains. However, as a result of massive hunting of the animal for its hide, they vanished from their historical range, and are now largely limited to game farms and protected reserves in southern Africa. In most reserves, the black wildebeest shares its habitat with the blesbok and the springbok.
Threats and conservation
Where it lives alongside the blue wildebeest, the two species can hybridise, and this is regarded as a potential threat to the maintenance of the species. The black wildebeest was once very numerous and was present in southern Africa in vast herds but by the end of the nineteenth century, it had nearly been hunted to extinction and fewer than 600 animals remained. A small number of individuals was still present in game reserves and at zoos and it is from these that the population was rescued.
There are now believed to be more than 18,000 individuals, 7,000 of which are in Namibia, outside its natural range, and where it is farmed. Around 80% of the wildebeest occur in private areas, while the other 20% are confined in protected areas. The population is now trending upward (particularly on private land) and for this reason the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in its Red List of Threatened Species, rates the black wildebeest as being of "Least Concern". Its introduction into Namibia has been a success and numbers have increased substantially there from 150 in 1982 to 7,000 in 1992.
Uses and interaction with humans
The black wildebeest is depicted on the coat of arms of the Province of Natal in South Africa. Over the years the South African authorities have issued stamps displaying the animal and the South African Mint has struck a five rand coin with a prancing black wildebeest.
Though they are not present in their natural habitat in such large numbers today, black wildebeest were at one time the main herbivores in the ecosystem and a main prey item for large predators such as the lion. Nowadays they are economically important for human beings as they are a major tourist attraction as well as providing animal products such as leather and meat. The hide makes good quality leather and the flesh is coarse, dry and rather hard. Wildebeest meat is dried to make biltong, an important part of South African cuisine. The meat of females is more tender than that of males, and is at its best during the autumn season. The wildebeest can provide ten times as much meat as the Thomson's gazelle. The silky, flowing tail is used to make fly-whisks or "chowries".
However, black wildebeest can also affect human beings negatively. Wild individuals can be competitors of commercial livestock, and can transmit fatal diseases like rinderpest and cause epidemics among animals, particularly domestic cattle. They can also spread ticks, lungworms, tapeworms, flies and paramphistome flukes.
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