Black wildebeests are characterized by their white, long, horse-like tail. They also have a dark brown to black coat and long, dark-colored hair between their forelegs and under their belly. Calves are born with shaggy, fawn-colored fur. Males are darker than females. Black wildebeests have bushy and dark-tipped manes that stick up from the back of the neck. Both sexes have strong horns that curve forward, resembling hooks. 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. Black wildebeests have scent glands that secrete a glutinous substance in front of the eyes, under the hair tufts, and on the forefeet.
Black wildebeests are native to southern Africa. Their 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. Black wildebeests inhabit open plains, grasslands, and Karoo shrublands in both steep mountainous regions and lower undulating hills.
Black wildebeests are mainly active during the early morning and late afternoon, preferring to rest during the hottest part of the day. They are gregarious animals and occur in three distinct groups, the female herds consisting of adult females and their young, the bachelor herds consisting only of yearlings and older males, and territorial bulls. Mature bulls set up their own territories through which female herds often pass. These territories are maintained throughout the year. Each bull has a patch of ground in the center of his territory in which he regularly drops dung, and performs displays. These include urinating, scraping, pawing, rolling on the ground and thumping it with his horns, demonstrating his prowess to other bulls. An encounter between two bulls involves elaborate rituals. 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. Threat displays such as shaking the head may also take place. The herds of Black wildebeests are often migratory or nomadic, otherwise, they may have regular home ranges of 1 sq.km. These animals 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 1.5 km (1 mi) away.
Black wildebeests are polygynous; a dominant male has 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. The gestation period lasts for about 8.5 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. Newborn calves have a tawny, shaggy coat and weigh about 11 kg (24 lb). They are able to stand and run shortly after birth. Calves are fed by their mother for 6-8 months and begin nibbling on grass blades at 4 weeks. They stay with their mother until her next calf is born a year later. Males reach reproductive maturity at the age of 3 years but may mature at a younger age in captivity. Females are ready to breed as yearlings or as 2-year-olds.
Black wildebeests were almost completely exterminated in the 19th century, due to their reputation as pests and the value of their hides and meat. Today the main threats to these animals are hybridization with the Blue wildebeest, which can happen where the two species live on fenced land; and loss of genetic diversity as Black wildebeests live in isolated fenced areas.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Black wildebeests is more than 18,000 individuals (with over 11,000 individuals in their natural range and over 7,000 individuals on farmlands in Namibia). Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.