An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

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

Connochaetes taurinus

      Brindled gnu, Blue wildebeest


Connochaetes taurinus [Burchell, 1823].  
Citation: Travels in Interior of Southern Africa, 2:278(footnote) [1824].
Type locality: South Africa, Cape Prov., Kuruman, Khosis.

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

General Characteristics

Body Length: 170-240 cm / 5.6-8 ft.
Shoulder Height: 115-145 cm / 3.8-4.8 ft.
Tail Length: 60-100 cm / 2-3.3 ft.
Weight: 140-290 kg / 308-638 lb.

Adult coloration is extremely variable, from a deep slate or bluish gray, through light gray to a brown-grey.  The underparts are slightly darker than the main coat.  Dark brawn, vertical bands mark the neck and forequarters, and from a distance may seem to be wrinkles in the skin.  Young are born tawny brown, and begin to  their adult coloration at 2 months of age.  There is a slight hump above the shoulders, with a slight slope in the body towards the rear.  The front of the convex face is covered with bristly black hair.  The long, horse-like tail is black, as is the mane which extends from the horns, over the nape to the shoulders.  A flowing 'beard' is present in both sexes, and appears almost like a dewlap.  While this is black in most races, the subspecies C. t. albojubatus and C. t. mearnsi have a conspicuous white beard.  Both sexes posses horns, which are very similar in form to those of a female Cape Buffalo in that they are slightly broadened at the base and without ridges.  Extending outwards to the side and then curving up and slightly inwards, they may grow 30-40 cm / 1-1.3 feet in females, while in males they may be up to 83 cm / 2.7 feet long along their curve. 

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 8-8.5 months.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: After about 4 months, although some suckling may occur until 1 year of age.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 1.5-2.5 years, males at 3-4 years.
Life span: Up to 20 years.

Births are extremely seasonal, with all births occuring in a period of 2-3 weeks before the rains.  This flood of youngsters prevents predators from decimating the new population, as they might if births were spread out over a longer period of time. A young wildebeest can stand just 15 minutes after birth, and can follow its mother shortly thereafter.

Ecology and Behavior

Activity in the brindled gnu is concentrated in the morning and late afternoon, with the hot middle hours of the day being spent resting.  Despite their awkward appearance, brindled gnu are extremely agile. When alarmed, they will prance about, waving their tails and pawing the ground.  If a potential threat approaches close enough, they will run for a short distance then turn back to reassess the situation, repeating the situation as needed.  When pressed they have been clocked running over 80 kmph /  mph.  While the large, mixed migratory herds receive much attention, with thousands of animals making long treks, sedentary herds are also found, with a home range of about 1 square kilometer.  Adult males are territorial, and may occupy their territories for a few weeks or for the entire year.  Size of territory varies from about 2.5-4 acres, and the boundaries are marked with dung heaps, preorbital gland secretions, and the pawing of the earth.  The average distance between these males averages 100-140 meters, although this may vary from 9-1,600 meters depending on the idealness of the habitat.  Competition between males is comprised of displays, loud grunting calls, and shoving with the horns, although rarely are these serious fights.  Only males with a territory may mate.  Unusual for most bovids, with the exception of cattle, wildebeest enjoy rolling in sand and dirt.  When possible, brindled gnu will drink twice daily.

Family group: Females and young in groups of 10-1,000 animals.  Young males (under 3 years of age) form small bachelor groups, while mature males are generally solitary.
Diet: Grasses.
Main Predators: Lion, spotted hyena, Cape hunting dog, leopard, cheetah, crocodile.


Open and brush-covered savanna in south and east Africa.

Range Map (Redrawn from IEA, 1998)

Conservation Status

The brindled gnu is considered to be a low risk, conservation dependent species by the IUCN (1996).  Similarly, all of  C. t. albojubatus, C. t. cooksoni, C. t. johnstoni, C. t. mearnsi, and C. t. taurinus are also classified as low risk, conservation dependent subspecies


Gnou is a Hottentot name for these antelope.  Konnos (Greek) the beard; khaite (Greek) flowing hair: referring to the conspicuous hair on the face and neck.  Taurus (Latin) a bull, hence taurinus, like a bull.

Literature Cited

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology).  1998.  Connochaetes taurinus.  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

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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

Return to Artiodactyla

© Brent Huffman,
All rights reserved.
Questions or comments? Click here