Category Archives: The wildebeest (the gnu).

The wildebeest (Connochaetes).

Wildebeest

The wildebeest, also called the gnu is an antelope in the genus Connochaetes. It belongs to the family Bovidae, which includes antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep and other even-toed horned ungulates. Connochaetes (Wildebeest) includes two species, both native to Africa: the black wildebeest, or white-tailed gnu (C. gnou); and the blue wildebeest, or brindled gnu (C. taurinus).
  • Mass: 120 – 270 kg (Adult)
  • Height: 127 – 147 cm (At Shoulder, Adult)

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Wildebeest leap into the waters of the Mara River during their migration in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. It is one of the greatest sights on planet Earth – the annual stampede of one million wildebeest from Tanzania to Kenya. Bursting through the open plains, the seemingly endless procession of the giant beasts is only halted briefly by the treacherous Mara River…

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The Great Wildebeest Migration is a ‘must-see’ event on every traveler’s calendar. It offers spectacular sights of millions of wildebeest crossing rivers and always keeping one step ahead of the many predators that follow the herds. It is a wildlife photographer’s dream and the perfect opportunity for amazing photographs and video footage. The migration of the animals depend on the rainfall in the different areas and this can cause the movement of the wildebeest and zebra to be earlier or later than indicated.

It is important to keep in mind that the millions of wildebeest and zebra are always somewhere in the Serengeti and Masai Mara. The herds gather when they prepare to move towards the rains and fresh grass. Early in the year the wildebeest give birth to their young and it offers an incredible opportunity to appreciate the sheer numbers when they are spread out over the grass plains in their thousands.

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Wildebeest_migration_map

PLEASE NOTE: The above maps indicate the general movement of the herds as observed over the past decades. The migration fluctuates from year to year and is dependant on the rain. Please check with your migration expert to plan your great migration safari and to establish when and where to visit.

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The Blue wildebeest can be found in a number of locations including: East and southern Africa (see detailed map below).

Connochaetes gnou – black wildebeest
Connochaetes taurinus – blue wildebeest

Distribution and habitat

Wildebeest inhabit the plains and open woodlands of parts of Africa south of the Sahara as shown above . The black wildebeest is native to the southern most parts of the continent. Its historical range included South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, but in the latter two countries it was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. It has now been reintroduced to them and also introduced to Namibia where it has become well established. It inhabits open plains, grasslands and Karoo shrublands in both steep mountainous regions and lower undulating hills at altitudes varying between 1,350 and 2,150 m (4,430 and 7,050 ft). In the past, it inhabited the highveld temperate grasslands during the dry winter season and the arid Karoo region during the rains. However, as a result of widespread hunting, it no longer occupies its historical range or makes migrations, and is now largely limited to game farms and protected reserves.

The blue wildebeest is native to eastern and southern Africa. Its range includes Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Angola. It is no longer found in Malawi but has been successfully reintroduced into Namibia. Blue wildebeest are mainly found in short grass plains bordering bush-covered acacia savannas, thriving in areas that are neither too wet nor too dry. They can be found in habitats that vary from overgrazed areas with dense bush to open woodland floodplains. The blue wildebeest is a notable feature of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and the Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia.

Threats and conservation

Today many wildebeest populations are experiencing rapid declines. Overland migration as a biological process requires large connected landscapes, which are increasingly difficult to maintain, particularly over the long term, when human demands on the landscape compete, as well. The most acute threat comes from migration barriers, such as fences and roads. In one of the more striking examples of the consequences of fence-building on terrestrial migrations, Botswanan authorities placed thousands of kilometres of fences across the Kalahari that prevented wildebeests from reaching watering holes and grazing grounds, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals, reducing the wildebeest population to less than 10% of its previous size. Illegal hunting is a major conservation concern in many areas, along with natural threats posed by main predators (such as lions, leopards, hunting dogs and hyenas). Where it lives alongside the blue wildebeest, the two can hybridise, and this is regarded as a potential threat to the maintenance of the species.

The black wildebeest has been classified as of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in its Red List of Threatened Species. The populations of this species are on an increase. There are now believed to be more than 18,000 individuals, 7,000 of which are in Namibia, outside its natural range, and where it is farmed. Around 80% of the wildebeest occur in private areas, while the other 20% are confined in protected areas. Its introduction into Namibia has been a success and numbers have increased substantially there from 150 in 1982 to 7,000 in 1992.

The blue wildebeest has also been rated as being of “Least Concern“. The population trend is stable, and their numbers are estimated to be around 1,500,000 – mainly due to the increase of the populations in Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) to 1,300,000. However, the numbers of one of the subspecies, the Eastern white-bearded wildebeest (C. t. albojubatus) have seen a steep decline. Population density ranges from 0.15/sq. km. in Hwange and Etosha National Parks to 35/sq. km. in Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park.

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“The long fight to save wild beauty represents democracy at its best. It requires citizens to practice the hardest of virtues–self-restraint. Why cannot I take as many trout as I want from a stream? Why cannot I bring home from the woods a rare wildflower? Because if I do, everybody in this democracy should be able to do the same. My act will be multiplied endlessly. To provide protection for wildlife and wild beauty, everyone has to deny himself proportionately. Special privilege and conservation are ever at odds.” ― Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year