The blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), also known as the white-bearded wildebeest, the common wildebeest, or the brindled gnu, is a large-sized antelope and one of the two distinct species of wildebeest.
It is placed in the genus Connochaetes which is under the family Bovidae and is closely related to the black wildebeest. The blue wildebeest is said to have 5 subspecies.
Both males and females possess a pair of large curved horns. They form herds that roam about in loose aggregations. These species are extremely wary and are fast runners.
|The blue wildebeest, common wildebeest or brindled gnu (C. t. taurinus)||Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique (north of the Orange River), southwestern Zambia (south of the Zambezi River), and southern Angola.|
|The Nyasaland wildebeest (C. t. johnstoni)||Mozambique (north of the Zambezi River), and east-central Tanzania.|
|Cookson’s wildebeest (C. t. cooksoni)||The Luangwa Valley in Zambia and the plateau region of central Malawi.|
|The eastern white-bearded wildebeest (C. t. albojubatus)||Northern Tanzania and central Kenya.|
|The western white-bearded wildebeest (C. t. mearnsi)||Northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.|
The blue wildebeest is known to exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males being darker and larger than females.
The blue wildebeest is typically 67 to 94 in (170 to 240 cm) in head and body length. The average height of the blue wildebeest is usually about 45 to 57 in (115 to 145 cm).
While males weigh up to 640 lb (290 kg), females seldom exceed 570 lb (260 kg). Its tail is around 24 to 39 in (60 to 100 cm) in length. All markings and features of this species are bilaterally symmetrical for both males and females.
The average lifespan of the blue wildebeest is 20 years in the wild and in captivity, they are known to live for approximately 21 years. The oldest known specimen in captivity lived for 24.3 years.
Blue wildebeest are broad-shouldered antelopes that have a distinctive, robust muzzle and a muscular, front-heavy appearance.
Young blue wildebeest are born with tawny brown fur and begin to take on their adult colouration at the age of 2 months.
The adults’ colouration ranges from a bluish-grey to deep slate or even greyish brown. The flanks and back are slightly lighter than the underpants and ventral surface.
The manes of both the male and female appear long, thick, stiff, and jet black, the same colour as the face and tail.
While the manes of the eastern and western white-bearded wildebeest are lank, those of the common wildebeest and Nyassalan wildebeest stick up.
The blue wildebeest species with the smallest skull is the western white-bearded wildebeest.
The western white-bearded is also the darkest, whereas the eastern white-bearded is the lightest.
Both white-bearded wildebeest subspecies possess a creamy whitebeard, whereas the beard is black in both the common wildebeest and the Nyasaland wildebeest.
The shortest muzzles are found in the female western white-bearded wildebeest and the longest in the Nyasaland wildebeest.
Both the male and female possess a pair of large horns, shaped like parentheses. These horns extend outward to the side, then curve upward and inward.
In males, the horns can be 33 in (83 cm) long, while the horns of the females are 12 to 16 in (30 to 40 cm) long.
Blue wildebeest are mostly active during the morning and late afternoon. These wary and extremely agile animals can run at speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h), tossing their heads and waving their tails.
Blue wildebeest move in loose aggregations and rest close to others of their kind. Blue wildebeest are a major prey item for cheetahs, lions, African wild dogs, leopards, crocodiles, and hyenas.
During the wet season, female blue wildebeest lead the herd towards areas where predators can be avoided and nutritious areas of grasses.
Male blue wildebeest (bulls) mark the boundaries of their territories with secretion from their scent glands, heaps of dung, and certain behaviour.
Body language used a territorial bull includes profuse ground pawing and horning, standing with an erect posture, rolling and bellowing, frequent defecation, and the sound “ga-noo” being produced.
A male wildebeest becomes sexually mature at the age of 2 years, while females can reproduce at 16 months (if adequately nourished).
However, most females do not breed until a year later. The breeding season, which usually lasts for about 3 weeks, occurs at the same time as the end of the rainy season.
The breeding season also called rut, begins on the night of a full moon, as some sources state that the lunar cycle influences breeding.
The male neither rests nor eats when a female is in his territory. The female also keeps close to the male, often sniffing his penis and rubbing her head on his torso.
During the breeding season, the female may mate with several males in different territories. The gestation period lasts for 8.5 months, and between 80 – 90 % of the calves are born within 3 week time period.
The birth of an offspring occurs in the middle of the day. Calves are born in the middle of the herd and must learn how to walk and probably run before the night falls (when the predators become active).
Calves weigh about 42 lb (19 kg) at birth, and can stand on their own within a short period after birth. The calf stays with its mother for 8 months and later joins the juvenile herd.
Blue wildebeest are herbivores, feeding mainly on short grasses that grow on alkaline and light soils that are found on plains and in savanna grasslands.
The blue wildebeest’s mouth is adapted for eating large quantities of short grass. Blue wildebeest feed both during the day and night.
When grass becomes scarce, they will also eat the foliage of trees and shrubs. They also like to drink water at least twice daily. They drink 9 – 12 litres of water every 1 to 2 days.
Habitat and distribution
The blue wildebeest is endemic to Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa, and Angola.
Blue wildebeest are mostly found in short grass plains bordering bush-covered acacia savannas in eastern and southern Africa, thriving in areas that are neither too arid nor too wet.
They can be found in habitats that vary from open woodland flood plains to overgrazed areas with dense bush. Trees such as Combretum and Brachystegia spp. are common in that area. Blue wildebeest are rarely seen at altitudes over 5,900 to 6,900 ft (1,800 to 2,100 m).