||Nyumbu Ya Montu
||50 to 58 inches at the
||265 to 600 pounds
||Open woodland and open
||8 to 81/2
hunting dogs, hyenas
There is no other antelope like the wildebeest. It looks
like it was assembled from spare parts – the forequarters
could have come from and ox, the hindquarters from an antelope
and the mane and tail from a horse. The antics of the
territorial bulls during breeding season have earned them the
name “clowns of the savanna.”
The species that forms the large herds of the Serengetis-Mara
ecosystem of Tanzania and Kenya is variously known as the
brindled, blue- or white-bearded gnu. Scientists do, however,
make a distinction and list the blue as a separate race
restricted to southern Tanzania. The wildebeest described here
is the white-bearded of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
The head of the wildebeest is large and box-like.
Both males and females have curving horns, that are close
together at the base, but curve outward, inward and slightly
backward. The body looks disproportionate, as the front end is
heavily built, the hindquarters slender and the legs spindly.
The wildebeest is gray with darker vertical stripes that look
almost black from a distance. This species has a dark name and a
long tail. Newborns are a yellowish-brown, but change to adult
color at about 2 months.
Large herds of wildebeest are located in the plains and acacia
of eastern Africa.
In the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem the animals make a
migratory circle each year of 500 to 1,000 miles. The migration
starts after the calving season in January and February on the
short grass plains in the southeastern Serengeti. Wildebeests
move west toward Lake Victoria, across the grass savanna to the
open woodlands, then turn north into the Mara. They then begin
the return trip to the south. They are relentless in their
advance and will swim rivers and lakes in such huge masses that
many are injured, lost (especially in the case of calves) or
Wildebeest are continually on the move as they seek favorable
supplied of grass and water. Active both day and night, they
often string out in long single columns when on the move. They
also cover long distances at a slow rocking gallop but can run
fast when necessary. Zebras and Thomson’s gazelles, and some of
their many predators, accompany the migrating wildebeests.
During mating season smaller breeding groups of about 150
animals form within the massive herds. In these small groups,
five or six of the most active bulls establish and defend
territories that females wander through. The bulls go through
all kinds of antics, galloping and bucking around their
territories. They paw the ground and rub their heads on it,
spreading secretions produced by the preorbital and interdigital
glands. They also urinate and defecate in a certain spot and
toll in it to signal to other bulls to stay away.
When neighboring bulls meet at the edges of their territories
they go through a highly ritualized “challenge” in which they
paw the ground, buck, snort and fight. They typical combat
position in on their knees, facing one another, with their
foreheads flat on the ground – they knock heads and hit at the
base of the horns but seldom injure one another. Some scientists
believe these challenges may increase hormone levels, as the
nonterritorial bulls in the bachelor herds are very placid.
Strictly grazers, wildebeest prefer short grass. They are
unable to go without water for more than a few days.
Caring for the Young
Wildebeest females give birth to a single calf in the
middle of the herd, not seeking a secluded place, as do many
antelopes. Amazingly, about 80 percent of the females calve
within the same 2- to 3- week period, creating a glut for
predators and thus enabling more calves to survive the crucial
first few weeks. A calf can stand and run within minutes of
birth. It immediately begins to follow its mother and stays
close to her to avoid getting lost or killed by waiting
predators. Within days, it can run fast enough to keep up with
the adult herd.
A calf eats its first grass at about 10 days, although it is
still suckled for at least 4 months. Even after weaning, it will
remain with the mother until the next year’s calf is born. At
that time the young males are driven away, but the females often
remain in the same groups as their mothers.
Wildebeest are the preferred prey of lions and spotted hyena.
Although the animals have no camouflage coloring, they get
some protection from gathering in large herds. (If a calf
loses its mother it will imprint on and follow whatever is
closest – a car, a person or occasionally even a predator, but
in the later case, probably not for long.)
Did you know?
- The wildebeest is one of the few African antelopes to have
extended its range in the last 50 years. They numbered about
250,000 in 1960 and are thought to number 1.5 million today.
- Wildebeest, or gnus, (pronounced 'news'), are noisy. They
constantly emit low moans and if disturbed, snort explosively.