With its powerful body and tall legs, the wildebeest is suitable for race. An essential skill to escape the procession of predators which frequents the savannah. Its migrations of thousands of kilometers, marked by perilous river crossings, are the joy of lions and crocodiles. Zoom on a bovid who migrates at the risk of his life.
The wildebeest, cousin of the antelope
The wildebeest belongs to the bovidae family and to the alkelaphine subfamily, just like the antelopes. Its name is the translation from Swahili “gnu”, an onomatopoeia reproducing the noise emitted by these animals almost permanently. We distinguish two species of wildebeest:
- The wildebeest blue (Connochaetes taurinus) or black-tailed wildebeest is widely distributed in the large open savannas of southern and eastern Africa (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya). He wears a brown or gray dress slate shade of blue. It has a dark mane running down its spine while the upper part and sides are generally lighter. The head is blackish and the shoulders are streaked with lines dark. It measures 1.80 to 2.40 m long for 1.4 m at the withers and weighs up to 230 kg;
- The wildebeest black (Connochaetes gnou) also called white-tailed wildebeest is found in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland. Its chocolate brown coat is thicker than that of its cousin because it can inhabit more regions. colds. The animal has a whitish and black mane at the end, which stands on the spine (that of the blue wildebeest falls). He can also be recognized by the tuft of hair they wear on the bridge of the nose. More menu, it measures 170 to 220 cm long for 1.1 m at the withers and weighs on average 160 kg.
The characteristic horns of the wildebeest
Both species have large, slender legs, a slender body, high shoulders, and a powerful head. Their morphology is adapted to the race, a wildebeest being able to run at 70 km / h. This ability is essential to their survival in Africa where predators are not lacking in speed. This natural selection is reflected in young wildebeest able to walk three minutes after birth and run an hour later. Bovids have horns flattened and curved in the shape of a parenthesis (blue wildebeest) or curved upwards (black wildebeest), which can measure up to 80 cm. The horns are formations of the skin which cover two bony protuberances placed on the top of the skull.
The wildebeest: grazer and ruminant
These diurnal animals are mostly active in the morning and evening. Herbivore, the wildebeest spends most of its time grazing and ruminating on the African savannah. It feeds mainly on grasses, leaves of bushes and shrubs, grasses like wild oats or quackgrass but favors young shoots. The wildebeest cuts plants with its teeth, without pulling them out, and ingests them without chewing. He drinks daily, generally morning and evening, in the water points on which it remains dependent. If necessary (drought, migration), he is able to do without drinking for five days, at most.
The wildebeest migrates to the rhythm of the seasons
This large ruminant is an animal gregarious living in herds of tens of thousands of individuals. In the season of rains, the herds disperse widely across the expanse of the savannah. In season dried, they congregate around water points and areas where vegetation still grows, in marshes and on meadows. If food is plentiful, the wildebeest can stay sedentary, but in many parts of Africa, gigantic groups, sometimes counting millions of heads, migrate in search of green pastures. The procession, joined by thousands of zebras, gazelles and elands, travels about 3,000 km. During the long procession, the excited animals make the famous mooing “wildebeest, wildebeest” to which they owe their name. The perilous passage of the swollen rivers delights the predators on the lookout (lions and crocodiles) because it causes thousands of wildebeest deaths every year. In 2007, the exceptional flooding of the Mara River in Kenya caused the drowning of nearly 15,000 bovids.
Fight between males
In period of reproduction, the male engages in typical ritual demonstrations: he howls, tramples the ground, rolls on the ground, defecates and urinates to mark his territory. When a rival arises, a spectacular duel begins but usually ends without injury, with only the male surrender. dominated. The winner can then impregnate dozens of females. After a gestation of eight months, the female (maroufle) gives birth to a small wildebeest which is autonomous as soon as the placenta has been removed.
The little wildebeest, a resourceful person
Became a prey easy for predators, the newborn must absolutely get on his feet to escape the hyenas that roam nearby. The merciless life of the savannah leaves little chance to the subjects unable to follow the herd. For safety, the little wildebeest stay middle of the group, a few meters from the slaves who nurse them for at least four months. The young male will be excluded from the clan at the age of one year, just before the new birth, and will constitute a group of singles with his peers. As for the young female, she will stay with her mother.
Gnou: a stable population
Wildebeest are mainly preyed upon by lions, hyenas, wild dogs, leopards, vultures and jackals. Diseases (such as rinderpest) are the leading cause of death in wildebeest, followed by predation and accidents. If the animal is little hunted for its meat, nor sought after as a trophy, it is however protected in South Africa after having grazed theextermination at the beginning of the XXe century. The main threat to wildebeest populations is the reduction in their habitat (expansion of inhabited areas, livestock, agriculture). The species is not considered to be threatened. It is listed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).