Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
- Type: Mammal
- Family: Bovinae
- Habitat: Savanna
- Location: South and east Africa
- Diet: Grasses
- Average lifespan in the wild: Up to 20 years
- Size: Body and head 5.6-8 ft (1.70-2.40 m); shoulder height 3.8-4.8 ft (1.15-1.45 m)
- Weight: 260-594 lbs (118-270 kg)
Blue wildebeests exist in a variety of colors, despite their name. There are gray, brown, light, and dark wildebeests, but all have a black mane and tail, short hair, a beard, and dark vertical bands on their neck and shoulders. They have a small hump above their forelimbs, and their profile is slightly sloped. Both sexes of blue wildebeest have horns that grow outward to the side and curve slightly inward at the top. The horns do not have ridges, and can grow up to 1.3 feet long in females and 2.7 feet long in males.
Females and their young form herds of anywhere from 10 to 1,000 individuals. Young males form bachelor groups, but most adult males are solitary and territorial. Males use their horns in shoving matches and disputes over territory. Only males with territory have access to breeding females. During the dry season, divisions between groups break down and massive migratory herds form. They follow rain storms in search of sprouting grasses, their preferred food. During these migrations, wildebeests traverse much of the Serengeti and, though they do not move as a single unit, over 1.8 million individuals move towards wetter areas. Zebras and Thompson’s gazelles also follow a similar migratory path, and travel alongside wildebeest herds. Zebras and wildebeests prefer the same type of grass, but eat different parts of the plant, which means they coexist well together. Zebras also have superior vision and hearing, which wildebeests benefit from. Young wildebeests often watch zebras for signs of alarm.
Blue wildebeests give birth to one calf at a time during a synchronized birthing season in February. A calf can stand on its own six minutes after birth. It is important that offspring be able to keep up and follow the mother closely, as young are the most vulnerable members of the herd. Lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, African wild dogs, and cheetahs all prey on young wildebeests. Adult wildebeests can flee from predators at over 50 miles per hour.
Blue wildebeests typically drink two times per day, and thus access to watering sites is crucial. They forage most actively in the morning and the evening, and rest during the hottest parts of the day. Since wildebeests are so reliant on seasonal rain patterns, global warming and climate change could severely disrupt or damage herds.
Did you know: More than 500,000 wildebeest calves are born over a 2 to 3 week period during the synchronized birthing season in February.
Photo by Hans Hillewaert, Creative Commons license.