Wildebeest ( WIL-dib-eest, VIL-, ), also called gnu ( NEW or NOO), are antelopes of the genus Connochaetes and native to Eastern and Southern Africa. They belong to the family Bovidae, which includes true antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep, and other even-toed horned ungulates. There are two species of wildebeest: the black wildebeest or white-tailed gnu (C. gnou), and the blue wildebeest or brindled gnu (C. taurinus).
Fossil records suggest these two species diverged about one million years ago, resulting in a northern and a southern species. The blue wildebeest remained in its original range and changed very little from the ancestral species, while the black wildebeest changed more as adaptation to its open grassland habitat in the south. The most obvious way of telling the two species apart are the differences in their colouring and in the way their horns are oriented.
In East Africa, the blue wildebeest is the most abundant big-game species; some populations perform an annual migration to new grazing grounds, but the black wildebeest is merely nomadic. Breeding in both takes place over a short period of time at the end of the rainy season and the calves are soon active and are able to move with the herd, a fact necessary for their survival. Nevertheless, some fall prey to large carnivores, especially the spotted hyena.
Wildebeest often graze in mixed herds with zebra, which gives heightened awareness of potential predators. They are also alert to the warning signals emitted by other animals such as baboons. Wildebeest are a tourist attraction but compete with domesticated livestock for pasture and are sometimes blamed by farmers for transferring diseases and parasites to their cattle. Illegal hunting does take place but the population trend is fairly stable and, with some in national parks or on private land. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists both kinds of Wildebeest as least-concern species.
Wildebeest inhabit the plains and open woodlands of parts of Africa south of the Sahara. The black wildebeest is native to the southernmost parts of the continent. Its historical range included South Africa, Eswatini, 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. It inhabits open plains, grasslands, and Karoo shrublands in both steep mountainous regions and lower undulating hills at altitudes varying between 1,350 and 2,150 m (4,430 and 7,050 ft). In the past, it inhabited the highveld temperate grasslands during the dry winter season and the arid Karoo region during the rains. However, as a result of widespread hunting, the black wildebeest no longer occupies its historical range or makes migrations, and is now largely limited to game farms and protected reserves.
The blue wildebeest is native to eastern and southern Africa. Its range includes Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Eswatini and Angola. It is no longer found in Malawi but has been successfully reintroduced into Namibia. Blue wildebeest are mainly found in short grass plains bordering bush-covered acacia savannas, thriving in areas that are neither too wet nor too dry. They can be found in habitats that vary from overgrazed areas with dense bush to open woodland floodplains. In East Africa, the blue wildebeest is the most abundant big game species, both in population and biomass. It is a notable feature of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia.