Did you know?
A wildebeest calf can stand, walk and run within 10 minutes of being born.
Wildebeest of any species are never going to win any beauty competitions on the savannahs and grasslands. In a world of elegant springbok and eye-catching zebras, wildebeest (also called gnus) look lumpy and clumsy.
They have short necks, beards, high shoulders, deep chests and skinny legs. But they are quite mesmerising.
In South Africa, you’ll find two distinct species – blue (or brindled) wildebeest, and black wildebeest. Blue wildebeest are far more common, and can be seen in many national parks and game reserves. They are easy to recognise, their coats a dark greyish-blue, with dark stripes on their flanks, and curved horns.
They are gregarious and have no problems mixing with other savannah inhabitants like zebra.
Black wildebeest are altogether rarer, and mostly occur in the Free State and the Karoo. They almost became extinct but persisted on a few Free State farms and their numbers have been gradually built up.
Black wildebeest are even stranger looking. They have upside-down meathook horns, beards and weird bristles on their noses, and horsey white tails.
They’re smaller than the blue wildebeest and favour drier areas. You’ll see them in places like the Mountain Zebra National Park, Karoo National Park and Free State provincial parks like the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve. And keep a beady eye on them, because black wildebeest can offer great entertainment. They’re not called the 'clowns of the veld' for nothing.
From demurely grazing, they’ll suddenly flick their tails, and gallop off to the horizon, and then back for no reason at all. Or they’ll dance about, whirling and cavorting in the dust. And then start grazing again.
Both species are easy to see because of their preference for wide open spaces. You’ll often see territorial males on their own, aloof from the rest of their herd.
Every now and then a black wildebeest male will emit a seductive hiccuping call, just to let the females know he has his eye on them.
The blue wildebeest speaks a completely different dialect, preferring to make his presence known with a metallic ‘ga-noo’, repeated up to 8 times.
Travel tips & Planning info
How to get here
Mokala National Park near Kimberley is one of the few places you’ll be able to see both species. Usually they are separated because of a tendency to interbreed. Blue wildebeest are generally found in the northern savannahs, and are easily seen in Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserves, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and various KwaZulu-Natal parks. Black wildebeest can be seen at Tussen-die-Riviere and Willem Pretorius Game Reserves in the Free State, as well as the Mountain Zebra and Karoo National Parks.
Best time to visit
In early summer, wildebeest females calve within days of one another, a strategy to minimise predation. The calves are terribly dear, paler than the adults and adorably gangly.
You’ll almost certainly see these animals while driving yourself around game reserves, or on guided drives or walks.
What to pack
Bring a long lens for your camera so you can get a close-up of that very odd black wildebeest profile.
Where to stay
All of the above-mentioned parks have good accommodation options.