Wildebeest are usually seen in the wide-open grasslands or savannahs, and so are among the easiest beasts to spot in a game reserve or national park. Also called gnus, these are sociable animals that occur in substantial herds. South Africa has 2 species of wildebeest, and both have quite eccentric habits.

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.

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