|The wildebeest is an odd looking animal. It has
the head of an ox, the mane and tail of a horse, and the horns of a buffalo,
but it is actually a kind of grazing antelope. There are two species of wildebeest.
The black wildebeest, also called the white tailed gnu, is found only in
South Africa. The blue wildebeest, known as the brindled gnu, ranges from
Kenya to northern South Africa.
Habits: Although it looks frightening, the horned wildebeest is neither aggressive nor particularly dangerous. When approached, it will stab the ground with its horns, stamp its hooves, and thrash its tail menacingly. It may even lower its head and pretend to charge. But if this display fails to stop the intruder, the wildebeest will retreat and then repeat its performance from a safe distance. Territorial battles between males involve a similar confrontation. Trespassers are first threatened with loud bellowing calls. If this warning is ignored, the pair meets in a head to head trail of strength. Horns may lock, but the fights are rarely bloody.
The wildebeest's usual response to danger is flight. Wildebeest live in herds of up to 100 animal. If a herd member spots danger, such as a pride of lions out hunting, it sounds a warning and the whole herd flees.
Breeding: The breeding habits of the wildebeest vary depending on whether it belongs to a traveling herd. Traveling herds contain animals of all ages and both sexes. The mature males may establish a breeding territory and mate with any females entering it. Sedentary (non traveling) wildebeest tend to be more organized. Females with young form separate herds of 10 to 1,000. Males leave the female herds when they are about a year old and join separate bachelor groups. At the age of three or four the males leaves the group and attempts to establish territories of his own. Males clash horns in territorial battle.
These territories may be held only briefly while the female herd is passing, or they may be maintained for many years. A male will then attempt to mate with any mature female that enters his territory. The young are born at the beginning of the rainy season when food is most abundant. A wildebeest calf can stand within 15 minutes of birth and can run shortly after. Until the calf is weaned, at about nine months, it stays close to its mother for protection. But the calves are easy prey for large predators such as lions, and many die.
Food & Feeding: The wildebeest lives in fertile plains and open woodland, where it grazes on short sweet grass. A taste for this type of gras often leads the wildebeest to recently burned areas, where the fire has cleared the tall, dry scrub, allowing shorter grass to grow. The wildebeest may also follow behind other grazing animals that eat the taller, coarser vegetation. It also eats succulent plants and browses on karroo bushes. It begins grazing soon after sunrise, rests briefly at midday, and continues feeding until sunset.
Although wildebeest are known for their seasonal migrations, not al wildebeest migrate. It there is a constant supply of fresh green grass, they remain in the same area all year. Only when there is severe seasonal drought does the wildebeest migrate in search of food. Herds of over 1,000 animals may then thunder over the plains, raising dark clouds of dust visible for many miles. Hundreds die on the these journeys. Many drown as they try to cross fast flowing rivers.
Wildebeest & Man: The wildebeest is hunted for its skin, which makes a durable leather, and it tail, which is used to make fly swatters called chowries. Some hunters also shoot wildebeest for sport. During the 19th century the Doer farmers killed farmers killed black wildebeest to provide meat for their workers and turned the hides into bags, belts, and hides into bags, belts, and other accessories. The massacre continued until 1870, when only 600 of the animals remained. The species was saved by two Boer landowners, who kept breeding herds on their lands, thus on their lands, thus enabled the population to recover. Because the wildebeest has the same diet as domestic cattle, it is seen as competition for grazing land in some areas.
Did You Know:
Related Species: Relatives include
the bontebok, Damaliscus dorcas, and the heatebeest, Alcephalus busephalus.
Features of the blue or black wildebeest:
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