Eastern White-Bearded Wildebeest (Gnu)

Eastern White-Bearded Wildebeest (Gnu)

Mammalia

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

COMMON NAME: Eastern white-bearded wildebeest, gnu
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Artiodactyla
FAMILY: Bovidae
GENUS SPECIES: Connochaetes (flowing beard) taurinus (like a bull) albojubatus (white mane)

FAST FACTS

DESCRIPTION: This subspecies of wildebeest has a white beard, unlike most other subspecies which have black beards; both sexes have smooth, cowlike horns.
SIZE:  
MALE 1.25-1.45 m (50-58 in.) at the shoulder
FEMALE 1.15-1.42 m (46-57 in.) at the shoulder
WEIGHT:
MALE 165-274 kg (360-600 lb.)
FEMALE 140-230 kg (308-510 lb.)
DIET: Prefer short grasses, but will eat taller grasses during the dry season; generally drink twice a day
GESTATION: 240-255 days
NURSING DURATION Young nurse for 4-9 months
SEXUAL MATURITY:
MALE At 3-4 years
FEMALE Around 2.5 years
LIFE SPAN: Up to 20 years in zoos
RANGE: Kenya and Tanzania in eastern Africa
HABITAT: Grasslands
POPULATION: GLOBAL No data
STATUS: IUCN Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed

FUN FACTS

1. Each year an ancient spectacle, the single largest movement of wildlife, begins. White-bearded wildebeest migrate in search of fresh pastures and water. Such migrations may contain as many as one million individuals.

Up to half a million plains zebra and Thomson’s gazelles often travel with the gnus. In November, the rains have resumed in the south and the green grasses of the North are depleted, the masses surge back to the fresh pastures.

This migration takes the form of long columns, stretching thousands of miles. Visitors and natives say the ground trembles under their stampeding hooves.

Predators such as lions and hyenas follow the herd while crocodiles wait hungrily in the rivers. They wait for a lone unhealthy gnu or youngster to break away from the others; wading into a herd of over one million hoofed animals for a meal is too dangerous.
2. Wildebeests live in more densely packed herds than any other large mammal, except for humans.
3. Eighty percent of calves (sometimes up to half a million) are born within a 2-3 week period at the start of the rainy season. Since predators can only take a limited number of prey at any given time, there is a higher chance of survival for each individual calf.
4. Calves can stand and run within 3-7 minutes after birth. They follow their mothers as they move with the herd.
5. At night white-bearded wildebeest sleep on the ground in rows; this provides them with the security of being in a group while allowing them space to run in case of an emergency.
6. Wildebeests are also called gnus because their call sounds like gnu gnu.

ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION

White-bearded gnu have increased greatly in number in recent years. In 1950, a census revealed approximately 100,000 individuals in the Serengeti region; today about 1.5 million white-bearded wildebeest are believed to be present. However, the growth of human settlements along their northern migration routes have begun to disrupt their natural patterns. The grazing and trampling of the grasses by such large herds helps to stimulate grass growth, while their waste provides nutrients for the soil and plants. Wildebeest are also an important food source for predators such as lions and hyenas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Estes, Richard. The Safari Companion. Post Mills, Vermont: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 1993.

Gotch, A.F. Mammals-Their Latin Names Explained. Poole, U.K.: Blandford Press Ltd., 1979.

Nowak, Ronald (ed.). Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol. II, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Parker, S.P., ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. 5. New York: McGraw Hill Pub. Co., 1990.

Spinage, C.A. The Natural History of Antelopes. New York: Facts on File Pub., 1986.

Stuart, C. and T. Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa. Florida: Ralph Curtis Books Pub., 1988.