Black Wildebeest

Black Wildebeest

White-tailed gnu, Black wildebeest, White-tailed gnu

4 languages
Connochaetes gnou
Population size
Life Span
20 yrs
Top speed
80 km/h
110-157 kg
106-121 cm
170-220 cm

The black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou ) or white-tailed gnu, 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 170–220 cm (67–87 in) in head-and-body length, and the typical weight is 110–180 kg (240–400 lb). Males stand about 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.

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The black wildebeest is an herbivore, and almost the whole diet consists of grasses. Water is an essential requirement. The three distinct social groups are the female herds, the bachelor herds, and the territorial bulls. They are fast runners and communicate using a variety of visual and vocal communications. 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 8 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 in 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, Eswatini, and South Africa. The species has also been introduced outside its natural range in Namibia and Kenya.

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Dominance hierarchy




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Long-Tailed Animals


Black wildebeest 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 wildebeest 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 wildebeest have scent glands that secrete a glutinous substance in front of the eyes, under the hair tufts, and on the forefeet.




Introduced Countries
Biogeographical realms

Black wildebeest are native to southern Africa. Their historical range included South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho, but in the latter two countries, they were hunted to extinction in the 19th century. They have now been reintroduced to them and also introduced to Namibia. Black wildebeest inhabit open plains, grasslands, and Karoo shrublands in both steep mountainous regions and lower undulating hills.

Black Wildebeest habitat map

Climate zones

Black Wildebeest habitat map
Black Wildebeest
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Habits and Lifestyle

Black wildebeest 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 wildebeest 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.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Black wildebeest are herbivores. They prefer short grasses but also feed on other herbs and shrubs, especially when the grass is scarce.

Mating Habits

8.5 months
1 calf
1 year

Black wildebeest 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 labor 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.


Population threats

Black wildebeest 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 wildebeest live in isolated fenced areas.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Black wildebeest 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.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Black wildebeest were first discovered in the northern part of South Africa in the 1800s.
  • The common name of this species "gnu" is said to have originated from the Hottentot name t'gnu, which refers to the repeated calls of "ge-nu" made by the male during the mating season.
  • Black wildebeest can run at speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph). When a person approaches a herd within a few hundred meters, wildebeest snort and run a short distance before stopping and looking back. They will repeat this behavior if further approached.
  • During cool weather, Black wildebeest lay down to rest, but in hotter conditions, they rest while standing up.
  • The herds of Black wildebeest graze either in line or in loose groups and usually walk 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, Black wildebeest roamed 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 crossed 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 to feed on sourgrass as wildebeest only consume young shoots of sourgrass. Now, almost all Black wildebeest are in reserves or on farms, and the extent of their movements is limited.


1. Black Wildebeest on Wikipedia -
2. Black Wildebeest on The IUCN Red List site -

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