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THE BLUE WILDEBEEST

24 May 2013

 

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name : Connochaetes taurinus taurinus

Weight (Bull) : Between 210kg and 260kg

Weight: (Cow) : Between 170 and 220kg

Shoulder height (Bull) : 1.4m

Shoulder height (Cow) : 1.3m

The blue wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus taurinus is a different subspecies from the white-bearded wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus which occurs in the Serengeti. The first wildebeest fossils in Africa are 2.5 million years old. The blue wildebeest was first described scientifically by the traveller-explorer W J Burchell in 1824 based on a specimen from Klein Heuningfontein in the Vryburg district, but the generic name Connochaetes was already used by Lichtenstein in 1812 for other subspecies of wildebeest. All the blue wildebeest of South Africa are members of the subspecies Connochaetes taurinus taurinus. Johnson’s wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus johnsoni that has become extinct in Malawi had a broad white band across the muzzle just below the eyes. Some 2 percent of the wildebeest that occur in Mozambique along the Savi River show a similar white band. Cookson’s wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus cooksoni only occurs in the valley of the Luangwa River in savannas where water and shade are abundant.

The blue wildebeest occurs from southern Africa into southern Kenia but has become extinct in Malawi. In South Africa, the natural distribution probably never included the regions south of the Orange River, but it did formerly occur in the Free State. Blue and white-bearded wildebeest are separated by a wide moist habitat band.

www.leopard.tvThe shoulder height of the blue wildebeest is 1.4 m and it weighs from 210 to 250 kg in adult bulls as opposed to 1.3 m and from 170 to 220 kg in the cows. The massive head and high shoulders contrast with the leaner rear. The blue wildebeest has a black beard in contrast with a white one of the white-bearded wildebeest of the Serengeti. The coat colour of an adult bull is greyish-blue tinted with brown and silver. There are dark brown vertical stripes over the neck and shoulders and a frill of hair on the throat. Some bulls have a rusty brown spot on the head, while the sides of the face have a pale rusty brown tint. The adult cow is more rounded in profile than the bull. The so-called golden wildebeest is a myth because it only is a genetic variation of the blue wildebeest. Should it have a specific common name it can at most be called a golden blue wildebeest. Young blue wildebeest and adult cows are more brownish than the bulls and young calves are dun in colour. The more northern blue wildebeest have a white chevron on the muzzle. Both sexes carry horns, but they are more massive in the cows.

www.leopard.tvThe blue wildebeest is a typical animal of open bushveld areas with 200 to 300 shrubs per ha. It stays near water and does not stray further than 100 m from shade. Blue wildebeest migrate over short and longer distances after rains and they follow the sound of thunder that occurs as far as 25 km away. They prefer natural waterholes and drink up to 19.4 litres of water per day. The diet consists of 87 percent grass, 12 percent browse and 1 percent wild fruits but it prefers green grass that is shorter than 150 mm. The blue wildebeest also utilises recently burned grasslands and grazes selectively to eat about 3.7 kg of dry plant material per day. The blue wildebeest competes with cattle for grazing and should also not be kept in areas where the sable antelope and roan antelope occur.

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Herds of 30 to thousands of animals may form. The dominant bull remains territorial for the whole year, while bachelor herds also form. The territories are 0.5 to 1.5 ha in size in the territorial bulls, but a territorial bull will only defend an area of 30 m in diameter around themselves and their family herd. However, this diameter may vary with population size. The breeding herds of 13 to 15 animals have a range size of around 25 km². Bachelor herds can number up to 50 animals and they utilize less ideal habitat on the edges of the breeding herds. The blue wildebeest forages actively by day and on moonlight nights and will drink water at any time but especially five to seven hours after sunrise but not at sunset.

Mating by a bull first occurs when it is 48 months old, and by a cow when she is 18 to 27 months old. Mating usually occurs from April to the first week in June, but in KwaZulu-Natal a second mating period occurs in August. The gestation period lasts around 250 days and a single calf weighing 16 to 22 kg is born away from the breeding herd. Often all the calves are born within three weeks. The calves wean when they are eight months old and the young bulls are evicted from the breeding herds when they are two years old. The horn buds of the calf appears at an age of three months and the calving interval is 12 months. The calf accompanies the cow within five minutes of birth.

Predator pressure in years with extensive rainfall, which create a tall grass habitat, can be high. In the Kruger National Park, the population growth rate is around 17.4 percent, but on wildlife ranches without large predators it can be as high as 38 percent. The life expectancy of a blue wildebeest is around 18 years.

 

References:

Grubb, P 2005. Order Artiodactyla. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 676.

Skinner, J D and C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 645 - 648.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

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