Wildebeest: Characteristics, Habitat, Feeding And Behavior

The wildebeest ( Connochaetes ) is a placental mammal that belongs to the Bovidae family. It has a robust body, with the forequarters more developed than the hindquarters. A long beard hangs on its neck and its limbs are elongated, ending in two-fingered legs and sharp hooves.

The genus Connochaetes includes two species: the blue wildebeest ( Connochaetes taurinus ) and the black wildebeest ( Connochaetes gnou ). Although physically they share many aspects, they have distinctive features.

Thus, the black wildebeest has a dark brown body and on this the light tone of its tail and the bristling plume stand out. In contrast, the blue wildebeest has a grayish-blue coat, with dark vertical stripes on the back. Its mane is short and falls on its neck and, like its tail, is black.

Both species have horns, present in both the male and the female. However, in the blue wildebeest these arise to the sides of the head and then curve upwards, while those of the black wildebeest have a slight downward turn before rising perpendicularly.

Its origin is the African continent, where it inhabits open forests, mountain slopes, fertile plains and grasslands.

Evolution

The fossil records found suggest that Connochaetes taurinus and Connochaetes gnou diverged a million years ago. As a result of this, the blue wildebeest remained in its original range, North Africa, while the black wildebeest moved to the south of the continent.

The two species had some adaptations to the habitat, however, in the black wildebeest these were greater because they live in open grasslands.

According to mitochondrial DNA analysis, Connochaetes gnou may have separated from the main lineage in the Pleistocene. This division was possibly not due to competition for food resources, but because each species inhabited a different ecological niche.

Connochaetes taurinus fossils are abundant and widespread and some, such as those found in Johannesburg, date back approximately 2.5 million years.

This is a very important area at an archaeological and paleontological level, since in the numerous limestone caves found there, fossils of great relevance for the history of mankind have appeared. Also, several extinct wildebeest have been located in Elandsfontein, Florisbad and Cornelia.

As for Connochaetes gnou , the earliest records were found in sedimentary rocks at Cornelia, dating back about 800,000 years.

characteristics

Extremities

The anterior quarters of the body are highly developed, while the hindquarters are lighter. The elevated position of its front extremities, in relation to the rear, allows it to travel long distances at a relatively high speed, reaching up to 80 km / h.

The front legs are larger, measuring approximately 8 x 6 centimeters. This is because the forequarters are sturdier and heavier. As for the hind legs, these measure 7.5 x 5.5 centimeters.

The footprint it leaves when walking is rounded at the rear, narrowing abruptly towards the front. In relation to the extremities, they are thin. However, they are powerful, allowing the wildebeest to move over rough terrain without falling or slipping in the mud.

This mammal walks in a particular way, like the giraffe. Thus, it moves the front and rear legs on the same side of the body at the same time.

Fur

The two species of this genus have very different characteristics in terms of fur. Thus, the hair of the common wildebeest, as Connochaetes taurinus is also known , is dark silver or bluish-gray. However, in some regions the color may vary to silver-brown.

In the back and shoulder region, this species has dark vertical stripes. It has a short black mane that falls on the spine and neck. In addition, it has a black beard that extends to the end of the throat, as well as a tail with long black fur.

In contrast, the black wildebeest ( Connochaetes gnou ) has a dark brown coat, with a bristling white mane. The beards are black and are erect along the entire length of the lower jaw.

The black wildebeest has a patch of long dark hair, located between the chest and the front legs. As for the tail, it is long and white, similar to that of a horse. One aspect that characterizes it is a patch of erect black hair, located along the bridge of the nose.

Size

The black wildebeest weighs 110 to 157 kilograms, is 2 meters long and between 111 and 121 centimeters high. In relation to the blue wildebeest, it is smaller. Its weight ranges from 118 to 270 kilograms and its body length is around 123 centimeters.

Horns

Both sexes have smooth, well-developed horns that grow from the top of the head. They develop very quickly and can be between 45 and 78 centimeters long.

These structures are shaped very similar to that of the African buffalo ( Syncerus caffer ). Thus, they extend horizontally, and then rotate upwards, almost vertically. The horns of the female are thinner than those of the male.

Head

The head is broad, elongated and large, compared to the size of its body. As for the muzzle, it is broad and convex in shape. This makes it easier for him to eat the short grass found on the ground.

Hybrids

The two species that make up the genus Connochaetes can be linked to each other. Thus, the male of the black wildebeest could mate with the female blue wildebeest and vice versa, giving rise to offspring that are usually fertile.

However, the differences between these animals, regarding their habitat and social behavior, prevent an interspecific hybridization from occurring naturally. For this union to take place, both wildebeest must be isolated in the same area.

Although the offspring are generally fertile, studies reveal that many of them have abnormalities, related to the horns, teeth and Wormian bones of the skull. In addition, in some young hybrids, the tympanic area of ​​the temporal bone is deformed and there is a fusion between the ulna and radius bones.

Predators

In African ecosystems where this artiodactyl inhabits, it is exposed to attack by various predators such as the hyena, lion, crocodile, cheetah, wild dog and leopard.

However, the wildebeest is an animal of great strength and with its horns it can cause serious injuries to its attackers, including the lion. This is why predators usually attack the sick, the old, or the young.

One of the defense tactics is herding. In this, the adults of the herd watch over and protect the young, usually while foraging. Likewise, species of the genus Connochaetes have developed cooperative behaviors, such as taking turns sleeping, while others defend the herd.

Habitat and distribution

The distribution range of the wildebeest corresponds to southern, central and eastern Africa. Thus, it is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya and Namibia, where they were introduced.

It can live in two or three areas, each corresponding to a special time of the year. These regions include a dry region, a wet region, and a transition region, which not everyone uses. This intermediate area is geographically located closely, usually at a distance of less than 20 km, from the dry region.

On the other hand, the wet and dry ranges could be separated by up to 120 kilometers. Of the three, the wet season area is the smallest, allowing for more efficient reproduction.

– The blue wildebeest

The common wildebeest ( Connochaetes taurinus ) is native to eastern and southern Africa. Its habitat includes Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Angola, and Swaziland and Angola. It is extinct in Malawi, but was successfully reintroduced onto private lands in Namibia and eastern Zimbabwe.

The range of the subspecies is as follows:

-Connochaetes. t. bullfighting . The blue wildebeest is found from Mozambique, north of the Orange River, to South Africa and Namibia. Also, its territory ranges from Mozambique to Zambia and south of Angola.

-Connochaetes. t. Cooksoni. As for Cookson’s wildebeest, their habitat is restricted to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia.

-Connochaetes. t. johnstoni . Johnston’s wildebeest lives in east-central Tanzania and in the northern area of ​​the Zambezi River in Mozambique.

-Connochaetes. t. albojubatus . This species, known as the eastern white-bearded wildebeest, is found in northern Tanzania and central Kenya.

-Connochaetes. t. mearnsi (western white-bearded wildebeest). It inhabits southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Habitat

Its habitat is very varied, including grasslands and forests. It rarely sits above 1800 meters and in ecotones of semi-arid or subtropical climates. It is found mainly in areas of short grass plains, bordered by acacia savannas with an abundance of shrubs.

It can also live on highland plateaus and on mountain slopes. One of the preferred regions is dense shrubbery, which opens onto floodplains. The wildebeest of Tanzania, during the rainy season, thrive in short grasslands located on volcanic and alkaline soils.

In the dry season, these artiodactyls move to longer grasslands, in areas where there are permanent rainfall and bodies of water. This is a very important factor, since its daily consumption is essential, especially at this time of year.

– The black wildebeest

The black wildebeest ( Connochaetes gnou ) is distributed in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. This ungulate inhabits the Karoo and Grasveld and throughout the Free State (South Africa).

At the end of the 19th century, excessive hunting of this species reduced the population to two groups, located on farms in the Province of the Free State. Since then, farmers and conservation organizations carried out joint actions, which allowed their recovery.

Today, this hoofed mammal has been reintroduced in some of the areas where it had disappeared, such as Lesoth and western Swaziland. It was also taken to Namibia, Limpopo, the Western Cape Province, and to private farms in Botswana.

Before extinction, during the dry season, it lived in temperate grasslands and on the desert plateau of Karroo in the winter. It is currently restricted to farms with open grasslands located in southern Africa. In these, the game is protected.

– Migration

Not all are migratory animals, but there are large groups of nomadic black wildebeest. In turn, the blue wildebeest has both sedentary and migratory populations. In Ngorongoro, located in Tanzania, the vast majority of Connochaetes are sedentary.

Males usually retain a network of territories in the year. Young and female form groups of ten or join larger associations. As for the non-territorial males, they make up groups of singles.

In Tarangire and Serengeti, almost all populations are migratory. Most herds of both sexes are frequently mobilized, although there are also resident sub-populations.

In the mating season, males can form temporary territories, but only for hours or a day. In that time, they try to gather several females to be able to mate. They then continue their march, moving forward to probably establish another temporary area.

Annually, several populations of Connochaetes taurinus , which inhabit East Africa, have long-distance migrations. These mobilizations are probably programmed, to coincide with the rainy season and with the growth of the grass.

Factors

Factors that could affect migration are the abundance of food, the availability of fresh water, the nutritional content of the grass, and the presence of predators.

The content of phosphorus and nitrogen in the grass is a relevant aspect in the selection of food. Phosphorus is a particularly important and indispensable element in pregnant and lactating females.

As a consequence of this, in the rainy season, the wildebeest moves to regions with an abundance of pastures rich in this chemical compound.

State of conservation

The black wildebeest and blue wildebeest are classified by IUCN as species with a lower probability of extinction. Although previously the black wildebeest was almost extinct, its population has recovered.

However, said international organization suggests the fulfillment of actions that contribute to the elimination of threats that put the subsistence of the species at risk.

– Threats

Deforestation

The land migration of this species requires that the landscapes be connected. Around this, one of the main problems of the wildebeest are the migratory barriers that man builds, such as roads and fences.

An example of this is the placement of thousands of kilometers of fences throughout the Kalahari, a desert located in southern Africa.

These prevented their movement to other territories during the drought, thus preventing the ungulates from reaching the grasslands and bodies of water. This situation caused the death of thousands of these animals.

Likewise, other threats are human settlements and the elimination of natural water sources, as a result of the deforestation of the basins. In addition, the introduction of cattle has resulted in several diseases that also affect it, such as sleep or nagana.

Hunting

The black wildebeest was exterminated in the 19th century by poaching, in order to market its meat. Thanks to the joint work between the community and national and international organizations, this population is rapidly growing. However, their hunting continues to be regulated in several countries.

– Actions

In 2008, about 20% of the black wildebeest lived in protected areas and 80% did so in conservation areas and on private agricultural land. The areas that are under protection show a maximum potential for the rapid growth of the population of this species.

According to experts, the conservation of both species should be focused on the adequate protection of the reserves and the maintenance of the quality of the habitat.

Taxonomy and subspecies

Animal Kingdom.

Subkingdom Bilateria.

Chordate Phylum.

Vertebrate Subfilum.

Tetrapoda superclass.

Mammal class.

Subclass Theria.

Infraclass Eutheria.

Order Artiodactyla.

Bovidae family.

Genus Connochaetes.

Species Connochaetes gnou.

Species Connochaetes taurinus.

Subspecies:

-Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus.

-Connochaetes taurinus cooksoni.

-Connochaetes taurinus johnstoni.

-Connochaetes taurinus taurinus.

-Connochaetes taurinus mearnsi.

Reproduction

The females are sexually mature between 1.5 and 2.5 years of age, while the males are able to reproduce at 3 years. The estrous cycle lasts approximately 23 days.

Wildebeest do not usually form pairs with permanent ties. During the mating period, the males establish a territory temporarily, trying to attract the females to them. These small areas measure around 300 m2, and there may be up to 3,000 territories for each km2.

The males defend their space from the other males, at the same time that they compete for those females that are in heat. The dominant forms a harem, defending his females from males who want to mate with them.

To get the attention of potential partners, they use various behaviors, in addition to grunting. Furthermore, while the females are in the male’s territory, the male sleeps and eats very little.

Mating

The mating in this species is polygynous, since in each season the female can copulate with up to three different males. Regarding reproduction in members of the genus Connochaetes , this is seasonal.

Generally, reproduction occurs at the end of the rainy season, between the months of May to July. At that time, the wildebeest are well fed and in their best physical activity condition. As for the gestation, it lasts between 250 to 260 days, so the delivery could take place between January and March.

In the event of adverse environmental conditions, the mating and parturition periods may vary slightly.

Breeding

Females give birth once a year and the litter is one young. At birth, the calf can weigh between 20 and 22 kilograms. Before long, the calf can walk and run, forming part of the herd.

In the second week after birth, the young already eats alone, but they stop being breastfed after four months.

Feeding

The wildebeest is a herbivorous animal, living and feeding on fertile plains and in open forests. There, you can find a wide variety of grasses, preferring short grasses. It also consumes succulents and browse bushes. If grass is scarce, it could eat the leaves of trees and bushes.

To satisfy their appetite, this ungulate is kept in constant movement through the territory, in search of food sources. This is done both during the day and at night, but at noon, during the hottest hours, they rest. For this, they sit in the shade of a tree while they chew. In some cases, you may lie down for short periods.

When the rainy season ends in the plains, herds migrate to the savannas, where food and water abound. This usually occurs between May and June and mobilization can involve a journey of hundreds of kilometers.

Diet

Regarding the composition of the diet, 96% is made up of short sweet grass and 4% of grasses. Within this group are Panicum spp ,, Themeda triandra, Digitaria spp, Stipagrostis ciliata, Cynodon dactylon and S. obtusa.

One of his favorite herbs is couch grass ( Elytrigia repens ), a fast-growing weed. It is highly resistant to droughts and floods, so it is abundant almost all year round.

Wildebeest requires large amounts of water to supplement its herbal diet. In the rainy season, you can go several days without drinking it, as the herb you consume has plenty of fluid. However, in the dry season, you should drink water at least once a day.

Behavior

The wildebeest adopts various thermoregulatory behaviors, with the intention of mitigating the high ambient temperature. Both species seek shady places and orient their bodies, thus avoiding solar radiation and reducing the external thermal load.

When said ungulate is positioned to evade the sun’s rays, it is usually placed parallel to the sun . This is because it reduces the area exposed to said radiation.

Different behaviors to regulate internal temperature can affect habitat use, physical condition, body mass, and foraging. They also cause the wildebeest to inhabit different microclimates within the same ecosystem , which could lead to reproductive isolation.

The black wildebeest migrates in large herds and is more aggressive than the blue wildebeest. Within a herd, the male demonstrates his dominance with various head movements and frontal pressure, while the female does so by shaking her head.

The young form single herds that sometimes join the group of females during the dry season migration.

Communication

Members of the genus Connochaetes communicate through smell, sight, and vocalizations. The preorbital glands and those found in the legs secrete a substance that contributes to olfactory communication.

For example, the odorous scent produced on the legs allows members of a pack to follow each other during migrations. Likewise, the wildebeest rubs the glands that are close to their eyes against the face and back of another, thus establishing social contact.

References

  1. Wikipedia (2019). Wildebeest. Recovered from en.wikiepdia.org.
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  4. ITIS (2019). Connochaetes. Recovered from itis.gov.
  5. Paul Grobler Anna M. van Wyk Desiré L. Dalton, Bettine Jansen van Vuuren, Antoinette Kotzé (2018). Assessing introgressive hybridization between blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) from South Africa. Recovered from link.springer.com.
  6. Furstenburg, Deon. (2013). Focus on the Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). Recovered from researchgate.net.
  7. Lease HM, Murray IW, Fuller A, Hetem RS (2014). Black wildebeest seek shade less and use solar orientation behavior more than do blue wildebeest. Recovered from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  8. Álvarez-Romero, J. and RA Medellín. (2005). Connochaetes taurinus. Exotic higher vertebrates in Mexico: diversity, distribution and potential effects. Institute of Ecology, National Autonomous University of Mexico. SNIB-CONABIO databases. Recovered from conabio.gob.mx.
  9. IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2016). Connochaetes taurinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016. Recovered from iucnredlist.org.
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