Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Black Wildebeest or White-tailed Gnu

Connochaetes gnou


Black wildebeest have a dark brown-black coat with a bristly white mane with black tips that stands erect from the neck rather than draping like the manes of other wildebeest. Their black beards are stand erect along the lower jaw, not the neck as in other wildebeests. The black wildebeest has a patch of long, dark hair between the forelegs and covering the chest. A distinct feature of this wildebeest is the patch of bristly black hair along the bridge of the nose and long flowing  white tail like a horse. Male wildebeest tend to be darker in color than females but both sexes have lighter coats during the summer months and shaggier coats during winter months. Black wildebeest have horns that can grow up to 78 cm long, these horns curve downward, forwards, and up (like a fish hook), the base of the horns widen to form a protective plate. Both males and female wildebeest have horns, but females tend to have smaller horns than males.


Black wildebeest were originally found in the temperate grasslands during dry seasons and arid karroo during rainy seasons but they are now only found on protected game farms in southern Africa. This species rarely requires shade or winter shelters because of its thick dark coat.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Black wildebeest are herbivores, feeding on vegetation only. This species prefers foliage of karroid bushes and shrubs.


Mating peaks are triggered by lunar cycles which cause males to call for females, this calling stimulates female estrus. Males will not eat or sleep while a female in estrus is in his territory. Dominant males herd a harem of females which they defend to prevent other males from mating with females of their herd. Females produce one calf in November- December, 8-8.5 months after mating. 80-90% off all calves are born within the same 3 week period. Calves begin grazing after one month and are completely weaned after 4 months. Female black wildebeests are sexually mature at 1.5-2.5 years of age while males do not mature until 3 years of age.

Months and Times of Activity

Black wildebeests migrate in large herds and are more aggressive than other wildebeests. Herds of black wildebeest increase in size with forage density. Female herds have a social dominance hierarchy of 14-32 individuals. Male dominance is determined by head-ramming and front-pressing behavriors while females determine rank through head-nods and head-shakes.Yearlings form bachelor herds that are sometimes tolerated to join female groups in the late dry season.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

  • In the 19th century hide hunting and land restriction drastically reduced populations of black wildebeests. Black wildebeest now only exist in captive game farms and zoos.
  • Legend has it that the wildebeest was put together from all of the left over pieces when God created the animals. It has the face of a cow, the horns of a buffalo, the mane of a lion, the legs of and antelope and the tail of a horse.
  • Children’s book featuring this animal: Wild Africa WILDEBEEST by Melissa Cole


Fourie, Jonker. "Blue Wildebeest." The Firefly Photo Files. Firefly Africa, 22 July 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

 Lundrigan, B. and J. Bidlingmeyer 2000. "Connochaetes gnou" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 03, 2014 at