The Blue Wildebeest

Connochaetes taurinus

A strong mammal, that is both a herbivore and the animal that is responsible for one of the greatest annual migrations in the world, the Blue Wildebeest. 

Geographical Range:
The Blue Wildebeest’s geographical range covers much of Southern Africa and there are large populations in the Serengeti in Kenya and the Serengeti of Tanzania in East Africa. The Blue Wildebeest is a keystone species on the African plains and Vachellia Savannah, 

Natural Habitat:
The Blue Wildebeest’s natural habitat consists predominantly of open plains and African savannahs, they are also found open scrublands and bushveld. They are even found in very arid regions such as Namibia and the Kgalagadi.

Blue Wildebeest are diurnal meaning that they are active during the day. They are active from the break of dawn and are usually most active in the early morning and late evenings to escape the scorching heat of the midday African sun. They rest together in small groups and move about in loosely associated herds. Males form or join bachelor groups, where they will become very noisy at the age of around 4-5 years. Bulls tolerate being close to one another and on the plains of africa there can be up to 270 bull wildebeest in one square kilometre. At nighttime Wildebeest will rest in groups of a few thousand wildebeest, which helps to protect them from predators.

Females calves grow up with their mothers and stay with them throughout their lives. Female herds consist of females from newborns all the way to the oldest females in the herd. These older females help guide the herd to nutritious feeding grounds away where the young wildebeest are safer from predators

Blue Wildebeest are tall African bovids and are members of the Antelope family with broad shoulders, sharp horns that are curled back like a bull, and have a strong mouth for grazing. 

Blue Wildebeest weigh 260-290kgs and are approximately 1,5 metres tall and 2 metres long.

The front of their heads is covered in Black hair, a goatee that grows from under their neck, and a long hairy tail like a horse. 

They have evolved for three important factors. These herbivores are built for speed and are able to run at up to around 60 kmph. They have also evolved to defend themes from potential predators and have a strong pair of horns, a strong thick neck, large forequarters, and a tough skin to protect them. Lastly, they have evolved to be prolific feeders in African grasslands, and prefer to feed on short grass. 

Blue Wildebeest’s Lifespan:
The Blue Wildebeest’s lifespan is around 20 years in the wild and the leading cause of their death is predation from carnivores. 

The Blue Wildebeest is a herbivore and feeds almost exclusively on short grasses. 

Their broad mouths are well adapted for eating large quantities of short grass. They are a highly active species and can consume large amounts of grass in a short time thanks to their highly adapted broad mouths. They are often seen with the Plains Zebra which will graze on the upper, less nutritious part of the grass, leaving behind the short greener grass which is higher in nutrition, which the Wildebeest feeds on. 

Wildebeest Male (Buck / Bull)

They also need to drink large quantities of water on a regular basis and prefer to drink water twice a day and usually drink 9 to 12 litres of water every one to two days. 

They also play an important role in fertilizing the grass with their urine and dung.

Their Predators:
The Blue Wildebeest’s main predators include Lions, Leopards, Spotted Hyenas, African Wild dogs, Cheetahs, Crocodiles and humans. Some of these man-made threats to Wildebeests include the increase in agricultural practices, fencing that interrupt traditional migratory routes between wet and dry-season ranges, diseases passed on from cattle, such as sleeping-sickness, and poaching for their hides and meat.

The Wildebeest is also known as the Gnu for the sound that it makes. Wildebeest communicate through body language, sounds and olfaction or smell. A male wildebeest’s call is able to be heard from 2 km away. The wildebeest’s preorbital and pedal gland secretions are important in olfactory communications, along with urine and feces. Pedal glands allow herds to follow one another during migrations. Wildebeest rub their preorbital glands and faces on the behinds of others for social contact. Individuals may also sniff and rub their nose and neck on other individuals. (Estes, 1991)

Social Structure and Breeding:
Buck Blue Wildebeest become sexually mature at around 2 years of age and females can conceive at around the age of 18 months, but usually only begin to breed after the age of 2 years. They are a poligomous and promiscuous antelope species. Their mating season or rut coincides with the end of the rainy season and usually lasts about 3 weeks. This is to ensure that all the animals are in good condition and health after feeding on highly nutritious green grass. Their conception rate is often as high as 95%. This mating season usually begins on the night of a full moon. 

During this period the testosterone production of males peaks and increases calling and territorial behaviour. Males will clash and compete for females and establish dominance over rival males. They will also snort, and bellow,  and dig their horns into the ground. 

Wildebeest Calf

Pregnant females have a gestation period of about 8.5 months and 80 to 90% of calves are born within a week. Doe wildebeest give birth to a single calve, usually around midday and the calves will be up on their feet and walking within a few minutes. By the end of the day can stand steadily and strongly to help ensure their safety from opportunistic predators that night. Baby calves weigh around 19kgs at birth and will remain close to their mothers to suckle for around a year. 

Collective Pronoun and name:
A group of Blue Wildebeest is called a confusion or a herd. Wildebeest are also commonly called Gnus and their name wildebeest is Afrikaans for “Wild beast.” Male Wildebeest are called Bulls or Buck and females are called cows or does. This confusion of names is partly due to their bovine appearance, but as they are antelopes, it’s probably more accurate to refer to them as buck and does. 

Both male and female Wildebeest have horns. These horns are an important line of defense against predators. Although they are antelope, their horns give them a similar appearance to Bovines and have very similar horns to the African Buffalos, which they are often confused with. 

Taxonomy and Hybridisation
The only other living species of Wildebeest is the Black Wildebeest from Southern Africa. Hybrids between these two species have been recorded and studies revealed many disadvantageous abnormalities in relating to their teeth, bones, horns and skulls. 

Wildebeest Male (Buck / Bull)

Not all Blue Wildebeest are migratory. Some populations of Blue Wildebeest migrate while others are sedentary In the Ngorongoro, most Wildebeest are sedentary, while in the Serengeti and Taragine ecosystems, populations are largely migratory, although small resident sedentary populations do also exist. In the Masai Mara National Reserve the numbers of sedentary Blue Wildebeest had dwindled from 119,000 in 1977 to only 22,000 in 1997. This sharp drop in population is thought to be largely an effect of the increase in agriculture and cattle in the region. 

There are around 1,550,000 Blue Wildebeest in the wild today, each year the herds of thousands of Blue Wildebeest congregate in the serengeti where they give birth to their young. Once all the young have been born, the herds begin the second biggest animal migration in the world. The Blue Wildebeest travel from the Southeastern Serengeti towards Lake Victoria in the west, and then turn northwards and head towards the Mara River which is believed to be the best place to witness the great Serengeti migration. It’s also commonly believed that this is the biggest mammal migration in the world, but that record is held by the 8 million Fruit bats that migrate through the Kasanka National Park in Zambia, and the longest migration in the world is held by the Arctic Tern which travel each year from Greenland to Antarctica and back.

Conservation Status:

Blue wildebeest are classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Wildebeest Male (Buck / Bull)

Further information:
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