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wildebeest facts

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Wildebeest is a variety of antelope. Both males and females have horns. While they are territorial, they are also known to be playful, energetic, and active. Of all the antelopes in Africa, wildebeest populations increased from 250,000 in 1960 to 1.5 million in 2020.


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important facts

  • Wildebeest is the fastest 50 mph animal
  • The two main species are the blue wildebeest and the black wildebeest
  • Two million wildebeest migrate each year
  • Wildebeests are mated in groups of 150

scientific name

Although the animal's common name is blue wildebeest, its scientific name is Connochaetes taurinus. It's also known as gnu (pronounced "g-new"). The animal class it belongs to is Mammals, a family known as Bovidae. Its subfamily is Alcelaphinae. Although there are five subspecies of this animal, only two of its species still exist. The subspecies are albojubatus, cooksoni, johnstoni, mearnsi and tauinus. The most common type of this animal is the nilgai, which is related to the black wildebeest.

In African countries, the animal known as wildebeest is nicknamed wildebeest. In English, this translates to Beast. In England in 1823, a naturalist named William John Burchell was the first person in the world to describe the nilgai. The wildebeest's scientific name is a combination of two Greek words that help describe the animal's appearance.

In African countries, the animal known as gnu is nicknamed wildebeest, which means beast in English.

©iStock.com/Wayne Marinovich

species of wildebeest

There are only two main species of wildebeest, both of which inhabit eastern and southern Africa:

  • Black Wildebeest ( C. gnou ) – Native to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. Other names: White-tailed wildebeest. They form breeding herds of 10 to 60 individuals and graze on open grasslands. They are hunted for trophy to the brink of extinction and are listed as an endangered species.
  • Blue Wildebeest ( C. taurinus ) – Native to Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Alternative names: Striped wildebeest, white-bearded wildebeest. They are most abundant in the Serengeti region, numbering over 1 million, and are listed as a species of least concern.

There are 5 subspecies of blue wildebeest:

  • Common Wildebeest – Native to Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola. Alias: blue wildebeest, spotted wildebeest
  • Nyassaland Wildebeest – Native to Mozambique and Tanzania.
  • Eastern Whitebearded Wildebeest – Native to the Gregory Rift Valley from Tanzania to Kenya.
  • Western Whitebearded Wildebeest – native to northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.
  • Cookson wildebeest – native to Zambia's Luangwa Valley.
The common blue wildebeest or wildebeest is the most abundant wildebeest with about 1.5 million individuals.



Research shows that the black wildebeest became its own distinct species during the Middle Pleistocene epoch, nearly a million years ago. The earliest fossils of this species date back to 800,000 years ago. The animal seems to divide by adopting certain traits to help it survive in a particular habitat, rather than to compete with other animals for food.

Fossils of the blue wildebeest date back 2.5 million years and were found in caves near the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg, South Africa.

appearance and behavior

The wildebeest are out of proportion. The animal has a heavy front end, but its hindquarters and legs are thin. Wildebeests have a rectangular head and broad shoulders. Its large muzzle matches the breadth of its forequarters, which includes large muscles.

Not every wildebeest is the same color. Some brushes are light gray in color while others are closer to blue-gray in color. The darkest wildebeest are grey-brown. They have dark brown stripes down their shoulders that run vertically across their bodies. Wildebeest have a black mane that is thick and long. They have long beards around their necks, which can be dark or light in color.

Wildebeest are animals that also have horns curled from their heads. Male wildebeest horns are twice as large as female wildebeest. Male wildebeest's horns are 33 inches (half the height of a typical refrigerator), while females' horns are 12 to 16 inches (30 times longer than an aspirin pill). As they age, the bases of their horns become rougher.

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Blue wildebeests typically grow to a height of 4 1/2 feet, or 3 1/2 times taller than a bowling pin. They can also weigh up to 600 pounds, about half the weight of a polar bear. When they travel for migratory purposes, they travel in flocks of at least 1,000 heads.

Their habitat is where wildebeest roam freely when they are close to each other. They are very protective of their territory. It is not uncommon for 270 of them to live in an area of one square kilometer.

Sometimes the herd will stay within their territory while other herds will be constantly on the move. However, each wildebeest will rest at night or when the temperature is warmer. Their most active times of day are throughout the morning and early afternoon.

Wildebeest spend about 50 percent of their lives resting. They spend 33 percent of their lives grazing and 12 percent interacting with other wildebeest.

wildebeest grazing
Wildebeests are animals with horns that curl from their heads, and the horns of males are twice as large as those of females.


Wildebeest make their home in woodlands and grasslands. Most of them live in different parts of East Africa. This includes the Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania. In southern Africa, wildebeest live near the Orange River in South Africa. This animal likes to live in the savannah where the acacia is. Grass grows quickly due to the moisture in the soil, making it ideal for grazing in search of abundant grass to eat.

While wildebeest usually live with each other, they have also been known to temporarily live with zebras they encounter on the plains. This is because the zebra eats the top layer of grass so the wildebeest can eat what's underneath.

While wildebeest usually live with each other, they have also been known to temporarily live with zebras they encounter on the plains.

© Key45/CC BY 2.0 – License


Due to their diet, wildebeest are always traveling. They are constantly on the lookout for water (which they drink twice a day) and grass. When the weather is dry, they eat fresh grass and return home before the rainy season begins. At the end of the rainy season, they return to the area to graze again. Because wildebeest have large mouths, they can eat a lot of grass very quickly. When grass cannot grow freely, they seek out shrubs and trees to eat.

Wildebeest like to graze on fresh grass when the weather is dry.

© DEMOSH / Creative Commons

Predators and Threats

Wildebeest are most vulnerable to large predators, including:

  • african wild dog
  • lion club
  • hyena
  • leopard

The bigger the wildebeest, the more vulnerable it is to prey. In order to protect themselves, a herd of wildebeest will gather together and start stamping the ground. They also make loud calls to make sure the herd knows they are in danger.

Another thing that threatens wildebeest is the fragmentation of their habitat. This can happen if the grass they are grazing on is suddenly blocked by a fence. The lives of wildebeests around the world are under increasing threat as agriculture and civilization continue to develop, and water sources dwindle in some areas. For example, Malawi no longer has wildebeest. Fortunately, in Namibia, their population is increasing.

Despite some of these challenges, they are not at risk enough to be considered endangered. Although wildebeest populations in the Serengeti have increased in recent years, they are slowly disappearing from the rest of the world. This is partly because they are competing with livestock for their necessities. Wildebeests are known to destroy crops they find. So farmers often kill them and erect fences to keep more wildebeest out. The only way the wildebeest can be saved from extinction is through conservation efforts.

lion - feline, eating, animal hunting, male animal, africa
Lions are one of the most threatening predators of wildebeests.

© iStock.com/diane39

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

When male wildebeests are three or four years old, they can mate with females. To attract females, they excrete feces and discharge them into their territories. If males try to enter their territory, wildebeest will fight for it. If a female enters, he will attempt to mate with her. Female wildebeest are pregnant for 8 1/2 months before giving birth. The mating season is timed so that calves are born during the rainy months of February and March. Eighty percent of all pregnant wildebeest give birth within two to three weeks, just in time for them to have access to plenty of grass. While similar animals give birth alone, a wildebeest may give birth in the herd around her. Small wildebeests are called calves.

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Once a baby wildebeest is born, it only takes a few minutes to get up and run. They stay close to their mothers to avoid being eaten by animals such as hyenas, lions, cheetahs and even wild dogs. For the first six months of his or her life, a wildebeest drinks milk from its mother. When they are 10 days old, they are ready to graze. Once a male wildebeest is a year old, he can leave on his own. It then finds other wildebeests to form a group.

In the case of the blue wildebeest, males are ready to mate when they are two years old. Most female blue wildebeests are properly nourished as young and ready to breed after 16 months of age.

Since they eat newly grown grass, the mating success rate is about 95%. It has been shown that the lunar cycle also affects their reproductive cycle. On the night of a full moon, testosterone levels in men are very high. This means their courtship calls are much stronger than they would otherwise be. Since males are more motivated to reproduce, females do the same.

The average lifespan for both female and male wildebeest means they can live up to 20 years. The longest recorded age of any wildebeest is 40 years old.


Up to 500,000 wildebeest are born each year between February and March. This is when the rainy season begins in its natural habitat.

As of 2018, the African wildebeest population numbered approximately 1,550,000 head. They are constantly being born in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Due to the increasing numbers of wildebeest, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed both blue wildebeest and black wildebeest as Les Concerns (LC).

Some East African blue wildebeest populations migrate long distances following an annual pattern of wet and dry seasons.



Many species of wildebeest are migratory, but not all. Herds of black wildebeest, for example, roam but do not migrate. Bulls may occupy territories approximately 300 to 1300 feet apart, however, this spacing may vary depending on the abundance of the habitat. The range of the female herd is approximately 250 acres. Groups of non-territorial males roam at will and do not have any type of restriction on where they roam.

Blue wildebeest, on the other hand, have both migratory and sedentary populations. Females and young groups of about 10 may join larger groups for migration.

In addition, some East African blue wildebeest populations make long-distance migrations each year following an annual pattern of wet and dry seasons. It may vary from year to year, however, it usually occurs in May or June in East Africa.

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about the author

Abby Parks is the author of novels, plays, short stories, poems and lyrics. She has recorded two albums of her original songs and is a multi-instrumentalist. She manages a folk music website and writes about singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other music-related articles. She is also a radio DJ for folk music shows. As well as being a pet parent to rabbits, birds, dogs and cats, Abby enjoys hunting for animals in the wild and has witnessed some of the more exotic ones such as Puffins in the Farne Islands, Puffins in Chiloe Southern Pudu (Chile), penguins in the wild, and countless wildlife of the Rocky Mountains (bighorn sheep, goats, moose, elk, marmots, beavers).

Wildebeest FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How far do wildebeest migrate?

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When wildebeest migrate together, they make a journey of 1,800 miles.

Why do wildebeest migrate?

Wildebeest most often migrate in search of easily accessible drinking water. In East Africa, the wet monsoon ends after June, which often triggers mass migrations.

Are wildebeest aggressive?

Wildebeests look like aggressive animals. However, they are usually docile. They are only aggressive during the breeding season. Males will chase off other males so they can get females.

Why is wildebeest called wildebeest?

Wildebeest got its name because in Dutch it means wild beast, while in Africa it means bison. This is why the baby wildebeest is called a calf.

Do wildebeests attack humans?

Wildebeest rarely attack humans. They will only attack when they are in captivity and someone enters their territory.

What are wildebeests good for?

Wildebeests are an important species in the complex web of life that includes plants, animals, predators and prey. Their droppings serve as fertilizer for the wide areas they migrate. They are also an important food source for predators such as lions and hyenas. Wildebeest skin is used as leather, and its meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Africa.

Can you eat wildebeest?

In some parts of Africa, people do eat wildebeest. They are included in a stew called bitlong. They are tough meat compared to elk.

Are wildebeests herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Wildebeests are herbivores, which means they eat plants.

To which kingdom do wildebeests belong?

Wildebeest belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeests belong to the phylum Chordate.

What class do wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeests belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeests belong to the family Bovidae.

What order do wildebeests belong to?

Wildebeests belong to the order Artiodactyla.

What genus do wildebeest belong to?

Wildebeests belong to the genus Connochaetes.

What type of mulch do wildebeest have?

Wildebeests are covered with hair.

What type of habitat do wildebeest live in?

Wildebeest live in grassy plains and shrubby savannas.

What do wildebeest eat?

Wildebeest eat grass, leaves and shoots.

Who are the wildebeest's natural enemies?

Predators of the wildebeest include lions, cheetahs and crocodiles.

What is the average litter size for wildebeest?

The average litter size of wildebeest is 1 head.

Interesting facts about wildebeest?

Wildebeest can trek over 1000 miles per year!

What is the wildebeest's scientific name?

The wildebeest's scientific name is Connochaetes Taurinus.

What is the lifespan of wildebeest?

Wildebeest can live 15 to 20 years.

How fast are wildebeests?

Wildebeest can travel as fast as 38 miles per hour.

What is the Difference Between Buffalo and Wildebeest?

The biggest differences between buffalo and wildebeest include their morphology, behavior, and location.

The buffalo is a large, partially migratory ungulate that is brown, black or reddish in color and has large horns that form the bumps on the animal's head across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Wildebeests are small ungulates with gray or brown hair and stripes, and in some cases shaggy manes, with heads higher than the shoulders and live in migratory herds in the southern third of Africa.

What is the difference between gnu and wildebeest?

The only difference between gnu and wildebeest is the origin of their names. The word "gnu" is of Afrikaans origin and means "beast". Meanwhile, the word "gnu" comes from the Khoisan language. Apart from the name, there is no other difference between these animals. These terms are used interchangeably.

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