Creature Feature – Common Wildebeest

The Africa exhibit is closed after Labor Day. Come visit one more time this weekend!

Connochaetes taurinus

The common wildebeest is found from northern South Africa to southern Kenya and Angola. They occur in large numbers on the Serengeti Plains of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They prefer open grassy plains with a nearby source of water. Their diet consists of almost exclusively grass, although they will also feed on succulent plants and tree leaves if there is no grass available.

The wildebeest is a strange looking animal with a large head, shaggy mane, sharp curved horns, and a pointed beard. The coat color ranges from a slate gray to a dark brown, with males darker than females. The coat is short and glossy with dark vertical stripes running down the wildebeest’s body. Both sexes possess horns which curve downward laterally, and then point upwards & inwards. Males are around 550 pounds, stand five feet tall, and horns around about 2 ½ feet long. Females weigh around 350 pounds and stand four feet tall with horns at around 1 to 1 1/3 feet long. Life expectancy is up to 24 years of age.

Female wildebeest and their young are found in herds from 10 to more than 1000 members. The males separate from these herds as yearling and join a group of bachelors. On the Serengeti, over 100000 wildebeests have been seen grazing within a 100 square mile area. The bulls are very territorial, but there is very little space available so each bull occupies about 0.8 acres as his own personal territory. During migrations, it is common for several hundred thousand Thomson’s gazelle, and up to a quarter of a million zebra to make the journey with the wildebeest.

Wildebeest populations are on the decline everywhere except for the Serengeti population. Large regions of their migration routes are being fenced off, which is a major threat. Other threats include the increase in agriculture, land development, and hunting.

Interesting Facts:

  • They have a wide row of incisor teeth that are adapted for tearing off and chewing short vegetation that other animals have a hard time getting at.
  • A wildebeest is also called a gnu. Gnu comes from a Bushman word which likely imitates the grunt-type the wildebeest makes.
  • There are now more than 1.3 million individuals in the Serengeti migratory population-the greatest concentration of wild grazing animals left on earth.
  • Because of their prancing, leaps, and territorial behaviors, they are sometimes referred to as the “clowns of the steppe.”
  • Wildebeest like to roll in sand and dust, which is rare among the horned ungulates.

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