An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Alcelaphinae
            Genus: Connochaetes

Connochaetes gnou

      White-tailed gnu, Black wildebeest


Connochaetes gnou [Zimmermann, 1780].  
Citation: Geogr. Gesch. Mensch. Vierf. Thiere, 2:102.
Type locality: South Africa, Cape Prov., Colesberg

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 170-220 cm / 5.6-7.3 ft.
Shoulder Height: 90-120 cm / 3-4 ft.
Tail Length: 80-100 cm / 2.6-3.3 ft.
Weight: 110-180 kg / 242-396 lb.

The chocolate brown to black coat is short and glossy in summer, becoming shaggier in winter.  There are tufts of long, brush-like blackish hair on the face, and a beard on the neck which extends to the chest.  There is a light patch on the nape of the neck, which is topped by a dark-tipped mane.  The back is nearly level, and the neck is quite thick.  The most conspicuous feature is the long, horse-like tail, which is bright white.  The eyes are small and beady, which, along with bristly hair on the face create a very strange look.  This is enhanced by the hook-like, smooth horns which curve downward, forwards, and then upwards.  Found in both sexes, they can grow 45-78 cm / 18-31 inches long, and expand into a hard shield-like base in males.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 8-8.5 months.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: After 4 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 1.5-2.5 years, males at 3 years.
Life span: Up to 20 years.

The primary breeding season is from February to April, with the subsequent calves being born between November and December.

Ecology and Behavior

No truly wild white-tailed gnus survive today - all are descended from captive individuals, and those in their native habitat are kept on game farms.  Therefore all recorded behavior of this species is not necessarily accurate - fenced paddocks restrict long-term movements and human intervention has limited herd size.  Maternal herds have a distinct hierarchy, and females have been seen attacking and fighting with strangers.  Bachelor herds, on the other hand, rarely display any aggressive symptoms.  Herds of females and their young wander in home ranges averaging 250 acres in size, passing through territories of breeding males.  These territories are set up by males over four years of age, and are marked in the centre with dung middens, in which the owner urinates, scrapes, and rolls.  Territorial conflicts involve ritualized posturing and horn wrestling, accompanied by a blaring, two-part call -"ge-nu".  The white-tailed gnu is quite vocal, including a metallic snort and a resonant "hick" in its repertoire.  

Family group: Females and young in closed herds of 11-50 animals, males in bachelor groups.
Diet: Grasses.
Main Predators: Lion, spotted hyena, Cape hunting dog, leopard, cheetah, crocodile.


Grasslands and arid shrublands in northeastern South Africa.

Range Map (Redrawn from IEA, 1998)

Conservation Status

The white-tailed gnu is classified as a low risk, conservation dependent species by the IUCN (1996).


These odd looking antelope were almost exterminated by white settlers, who viewed them as pests, and also valued their tails, which were used as fly swats.  Konnos (Greek) the beard; khaite (Greek) flowing hair: referring to the conspicuous hair on the face and neck.  Gnou is a Hottentot name for these antelope.

Literature Cited

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology).  1998.  Connochaetes gnou. In African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 and 2. Bruxelles: European Commission Directorate. Available online at

Kingdon, J.  1997.  The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.  Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

Walther, F. R. 1990.  Hartebeests.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 418-436.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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© Brent Huffman,
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