Wildebeest

Wildebeest

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  • Information
  • Conservation
  • Lifestyle

Description

The wildebeest got its name from the Afrikaans word for ‘wild beast’ and were thought to be dangerous because of their size, horns and large heads.  The species found at Safari West, the blue wildebeest, also known as brindled gnu, maintain bluish-gray coloration across their body leading to a tan pelage on their legs. Dark vertical stripes extend downward from the neck and back and a flowing beard is present in both sexes, appearing almost like a dewlap. Young are born light brown and begin to change to their adult coloration at around 2 months of age. Both sexes have short, curved horns that extend outwards to the side and then curve up and are thicker in males. The horns may grow 1-1.3 ft (30-40 cm) in females, up to 2.7 ft (80 cm) in males. Despite their awkward appearance wildebeest are extremely agile and can run over 50 mph (80 kph). If a predator approaches they will run for a short distance then turn back to reassess the situation.

Classification

Class
Mammalia
Order
Cetartiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Genus
Connochaetes
Species
C. taurinus
Conservation Status
Least Concern

Key Facts

Height
3.8-4.8 ft (~115-145 cm)
Weight
310-640 lb (~140-290 kg)

The IUCN Red List describes Connochaetes taurinus as a species of Least Concern with a numerous and widespread population. Despite this classification recent population estimates suggest that some sub-species may be a concern and several sub-populations depend on conservation management. One of these sub-populations is the Serengeti-Mara which accounts for 70% of the total population. Potential threats to their perseverance include the presence of fences, roads, and villages blocking many of the migratory trails once used. Additional threats include the loss of water resources, poaching, and diseases that can be transmitted by cattle.

Social Life
Wildebeest are usually most active in the morning and late afternoon and spend the hot hours of the day resting. They are extremely gregarious animals usually living in groups of 10-1000 animals. Males maintain these herds of females and their young within territories when the herd is sedentary, and may occupy these territories for a few weeks or for the entire year depending on the availability of resources. Only males holding a territory mate so competition is common and comprises displays, grunting calls, pushing with horns and occasionally, serious fights. Male wildebeest become territorial and compete for mate access around 4-5 years of age. While migrating, loose aggregations form with thousands of animals making long treks in search of water and food. In the Serengeti there are an estimated 1.5-2 million animals that migrate in a 300 mi (480 km) loop following the grasses and rains; this is a year-round movement with the animals remaining in a given area for around 1-3 months before moving on again. Females give birth in February in the southern Serengeti and their young are up walking and running within hours of birth and can keep up with the herd shortly thereafter. There is a synchronized birthing with about 80% of the young born in a 2-3 week period. This flood of youngsters prevents predators from picking off all the new babies, as they might if births were spread out over a longer period of time.

Habitat and Range
Blue wildebeest are common in eastern and southern Africa, from Kenya to Namibia. They are most commonly found in open savannas but can also be found in a wide variety of habitats, from dense brush to open woodland floodplains.

Diet
Wildebeest specialize in grazing short, green grass. Their primary food consists of rapidly growing grasses found on the savannas and plains. When these grasses are sparse, they may browse on the leaves of shrubs and trees. When grasses and leaves are hard to come by, migratory herds of several thousand wildebeest travel hundreds of miles to find food. Wildebeest will drink every day and must drink every 1-2 days and thus remain within 15 mi (24 km) of a water source.

Lifespan
Blue wildebeest are known to live up to 20 years in the wild and up to 23 years in captivity.

Predators
Main predators of wildebeest include lions, spotted hyenas, painted dogs, leopards, cheetahs, and crocodiles.  When a predator is spotted, wildebeest group together and stamp their feet and make loud alarm calls. Wildebeest mothers may defend their calves successfully against individual hyenas or cheetahs. It has been observed that individuals in larger herds fall victim to predation more often than those in smaller herds due to individuals in large herds being less vigilant.

Reproduction
Sexual maturity: Male: 3-4 years, Female: 1.5-2.5 years
Mating Season: Year-round
Birth Season:    Seasonal, typically 2-3 weeks before the rains
Gestation:          8-8.5 months
No. of Young:     1, rarely 2

Information

Description

The wildebeest got its name from the Afrikaans word for ‘wild beast’ and were thought to be dangerous because of their size, horns and large heads.  The species found at Safari West, the blue wildebeest, also known as brindled gnu, maintain bluish-gray coloration across their body leading to a tan pelage on their legs. Dark vertical stripes extend downward from the neck and back and a flowing beard is present in both sexes, appearing almost like a dewlap. Young are born light brown and begin to change to their adult coloration at around 2 months of age. Both sexes have short, curved horns that extend outwards to the side and then curve up and are thicker in males. The horns may grow 1-1.3 ft (30-40 cm) in females, up to 2.7 ft (80 cm) in males. Despite their awkward appearance wildebeest are extremely agile and can run over 50 mph (80 kph). If a predator approaches they will run for a short distance then turn back to reassess the situation.

Classification

Class
Mammalia
Order
Cetartiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Genus
Connochaetes
Species
C. taurinus
Conservation Status
Least Concern

Key Facts

Height
3.8-4.8 ft (~115-145 cm)
Weight
310-640 lb (~140-290 kg)
Conservation

The IUCN Red List describes Connochaetes taurinus as a species of Least Concern with a numerous and widespread population. Despite this classification recent population estimates suggest that some sub-species may be a concern and several sub-populations depend on conservation management. One of these sub-populations is the Serengeti-Mara which accounts for 70% of the total population. Potential threats to their perseverance include the presence of fences, roads, and villages blocking many of the migratory trails once used. Additional threats include the loss of water resources, poaching, and diseases that can be transmitted by cattle.

Lifestyle

Social Life
Wildebeest are usually most active in the morning and late afternoon and spend the hot hours of the day resting. They are extremely gregarious animals usually living in groups of 10-1000 animals. Males maintain these herds of females and their young within territories when the herd is sedentary, and may occupy these territories for a few weeks or for the entire year depending on the availability of resources. Only males holding a territory mate so competition is common and comprises displays, grunting calls, pushing with horns and occasionally, serious fights. Male wildebeest become territorial and compete for mate access around 4-5 years of age. While migrating, loose aggregations form with thousands of animals making long treks in search of water and food. In the Serengeti there are an estimated 1.5-2 million animals that migrate in a 300 mi (480 km) loop following the grasses and rains; this is a year-round movement with the animals remaining in a given area for around 1-3 months before moving on again. Females give birth in February in the southern Serengeti and their young are up walking and running within hours of birth and can keep up with the herd shortly thereafter. There is a synchronized birthing with about 80% of the young born in a 2-3 week period. This flood of youngsters prevents predators from picking off all the new babies, as they might if births were spread out over a longer period of time.

Habitat and Range
Blue wildebeest are common in eastern and southern Africa, from Kenya to Namibia. They are most commonly found in open savannas but can also be found in a wide variety of habitats, from dense brush to open woodland floodplains.

Diet
Wildebeest specialize in grazing short, green grass. Their primary food consists of rapidly growing grasses found on the savannas and plains. When these grasses are sparse, they may browse on the leaves of shrubs and trees. When grasses and leaves are hard to come by, migratory herds of several thousand wildebeest travel hundreds of miles to find food. Wildebeest will drink every day and must drink every 1-2 days and thus remain within 15 mi (24 km) of a water source.

Lifespan
Blue wildebeest are known to live up to 20 years in the wild and up to 23 years in captivity.

Predators
Main predators of wildebeest include lions, spotted hyenas, painted dogs, leopards, cheetahs, and crocodiles.  When a predator is spotted, wildebeest group together and stamp their feet and make loud alarm calls. Wildebeest mothers may defend their calves successfully against individual hyenas or cheetahs. It has been observed that individuals in larger herds fall victim to predation more often than those in smaller herds due to individuals in large herds being less vigilant.

Reproduction
Sexual maturity: Male: 3-4 years, Female: 1.5-2.5 years
Mating Season: Year-round
Birth Season:    Seasonal, typically 2-3 weeks before the rains
Gestation:          8-8.5 months
No. of Young:     1, rarely 2

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Wildebeest