Black Wildebeest

black wildebeest

The black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) also called the white-tailed gnu, is one of the two wildebeest species.

It is classified as a member of the genus Connochaetes, under the family Bovidae. It was first mentioned in 1780 by Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann.

The black wildebeest is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern.

Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderArtiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
SubfamilyAlcelaphinae
GenusConnochaetes
SpeciesConnochaetes gnou

Characteristics

Black wildebeest are known to be sexually dimorphic, with males being larger in size than females.

The head-and-body length is usually about 67 to 87 in (170 to 220 cm). Males reach about 44 to 48 in (111 to 121 cm) at the shoulder height, while females reach 42 to 46 in (106 to 116 cm). Males typically weigh 309 to 346 lb (140 to 157 kg) and females 243 to 269 lb (110 to 122 kg).

A distinguishing feature in both males and females is the tail, which similar to that of a horse. Due to its bright-white coloured tail, it is given the name “white-tailed gnu”.

It is distinguished from the blue wildebeest, which has a black-coloured tail. The length of the black wildebeest’s tail ranges from 31 – 39 in (80 – 100 cm).

The black wildebeest has a black or brown coat, which is coarser and shaggier in the winter and slightly paler in summer.

Newborn calves are born with a shaggy, fawn-coloured fur. Males are generally darker than females. Black wildebeest have bushy and dark-tipped manes. Other physical features include a plain, thick neck, and small, beady eyes.

Both males and females have strong horns that curve forward, which resembles hooks, and are up to 31 in (78 cm) in length. In mature males, the horns have a broad base and are flattened to form a protective shield.

In mature females, the horns are both narrower and shorter. Males fully develop their horns at the age of 4 or 5 years, while females fully develop theirs at the age of 3 years.

Black wildebeest have 13 thoracic vertebrae. They have scent glands that secrete a glutinous substance under the hair tufts, in front of the eyes, and on the forefeet.

Apart from the different coloured tail, the two species of wildebeest also differ in colour and size, with the black being darker and smaller than the blue.

Reproduction

Male black wildebeest become sexually mature at the age of 3 years but may mature a bit earlier in captivity.

Female black wildebeest first come into estrus and breed as young as 2 years. They also breed once yearly.

A dominant male owns a harem of females and will not allow lesser males to mate with them. The wildebeest’s mating season starts at the end of the rainy season, and it lasts for a few weeks between February – April.

Sexual behaviour displayed by males includes ears down, stretching low, performing ritual urination, sniffing of the female’s vulva, and touching his chin to the female’s rump.

At the same time, females swish their tails across the face of males or keep their tails upwards (sometimes vertically). After mating, both partners go their separate ways; however, in some cases, the female follows the male often touching his rump with her snout.

The gestation period may last up to 8.5 months, after which a calf is born. The calf is born with a tawny, shaggy coat and weighs about 24 lb (11 kg).

At four weeks old, the calf fully develops its four incisors and at the same time develops two knob-like structures (horn buds) on its head.

These horn buds later develop into horns, which reach a length of 8 to 10 in (200 to 250 mm) by the fifth month.

These horns become fully developed by the eighth month. Calves are able to stand, walk, and also run shortly after birth. Calves are fed by their lactating mothers for 6 to 8 months and remain with them until the next calf is born.

Diet

Black wildebeest are primarily grazers, preferring short grasses, but also feeds on other shrubs and herbs, especially if grasses are scarce. They also need water, though they can survive without drinking water every day.

Habitat

The black wildebeest is endemic to southern Africa. Its historical range included Swaziland, South Africa, and Lesotho.

The black wildebeest inhabits grasslands, open plains, and Karoo shrub lands in both lower undulating hills and steep mountainous regions. The altitudes in these areas vary from 4,430 to 7,050 ft (1,350 to 2,150 m).

The herds are often nomadic or migratory. They may also have regular home ranges of 11,000,000 sq ft (1 km2). Female herds roam in home ranges around 100 ha; 0.39 sq mi (250 acres) in size.

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