Wildebeest facts


Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) crossing a river during the Great Migration

Wildebeest, also known as gnu, are large muscular antelopes that weigh 120-300kg. They have a large head, a robust muzzle and impressive horns that grow upwards and curve inwards. Their short hair is grey to dark brown in colour and they also have black manes, tails and faces. They can live to around 20 years of age.

Wildebeest form small herds made up primarily of females and calves. Young males form small bachelor groups or at around 4-5 years old attempt to establish territories on their own. These territories are seldom held for long as wildebeest are engaged in a migratory cycle that keeps them on the move. During the dry season, smaller herds merge to form one of the great spectacles of the natural world, often dubbed the Great Migration. Over a million wildebeest plus half as many zebra and gazelle follow the rains northward from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara, and back again in October.


The single greatest hurdle to the animals during this journey is the Mara River. Crossing points form bottlenecks in which thousands of animals perish through trampling or drowning. Not surprisingly, hyenas, lions, leopards, crocodiles and even cheetahs capitalise on this glut of fresh meat.

There is also a resident population of wildebeest in the Mara, who move between eastern breeding areas and the western pastures, where they mingle with the Great Migration. This population has dwindled from 100,000 to 20,000 as agriculture has expanded into the wildebeesthttp://'''s natural habitat.

Did you know?

  • The largest known herd of wildebeest numbers over one million animals.
  • Wildebeest have scent glands in their hooves.
  • An average wildebeest weigh 200kg, an adult lion can consume almost a fifth of this in a single sitting.
  • Wildebeest need to drink almost every day.

On the Website

Big Cat Raw: the final episode

Cam Highlight: John Aitchisonhttp://'''s Web Safari

More on the Web

Photos and information on blue wildebeest

World on the Move
Jonathan Scott reports on wildebeest migration

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