There are two kinds of wildebeest in Namibia, the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and the black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou), although the latter is not endemic to western Africa.
The two species are alike in many of their habits and have been known to interbreed where they occur together. For this reason, most of Namibia’s 7 000 black wildebeest are found in private nature reserves, while their larger cousins roam in the country’s national parks like Etosha.
Differences in Appearances
Despite their similarities, the two animals are easily distinguished from one another.
Black wildebeest are a dark chocolatey color with an upright mane of white hair tipped in black. They have a fringe of dark hair between their forelegs which extends under the belly. The tail is white and the horns curve upwards and forwards.
Blue wildebeest are greyer with a black mane which flops on the neck, darker streaks on the shoulders and a pale beard under the chin and neck. Their horns curve outwards and upwards.
Neither species is presently under threat and they are a common sight on grasslands wherever they occur. Wildebeest are a shade loving species, preferring to rest up under the trees during the heat of the day. They usually confine their feeding habits to morning and late afternoon.
Survival in the Wild
In Etosha National Park, you can see blue wildebeest in great numbers anywhere where there is grazing and water. Wildebeest consume around a quarter of their body weight in grass every day and prefer to drink daily.
It is these food requirements that drive them to risk their lives crossing the watery death traps of the Serengeti every year during Earth’s largest animal migration. In other places, their movement is restricted by fences and the encroachment of human settlements.
Although they mass together in their thousands during the migration, most wildebeest herds consist of 20 to 40 individuals. These are made up of a male leader and his harem of females with their young.
Bachelor bulls gather in loose herds of their own.
Both these types of herds are very often found in the company of zebras. They have a symbiotic relationship with these herbivores, eating the taller parts of the grasses, leaving the shorter stalks which the zebras prefer behind. This relationship is also based on the theory that more is always better when it comes to anticipating and surviving attacks from predators. Both zebra and wildebeest are highly palatable to lions.
During the breeding season, the male wildebeest will defend his territory and his herd against these young usurpers with surprising vigor. He mates with all his females, resulting in the arrival of one or sometimes two calves per female after an 8 to 9-month gestation period. All the calves are born within a few weeks of each other during the rainy season.
Famously, the calves are up and running within minutes of their birth. With ravenous hyenas, eager to eat them, they need to have their wits about them from the outset and calf mortality can be as high as 50%. The calves are weaned from 6 months old and stay with their mother until she produces her next offspring.