The primal herds were exterminated, being seen as pests, with the secondary advantage of using the hides and meat. Thus this animal exists primarily in herds derived from captive specimens.
Its preferred habitat types are grassveld savanna and Karoo of the central South Africa plateau (Lynch, 1983; von Richter, 1974).
The wildebeest (plural wildebeest, wildebeests or wildebai), also called the gnu (pronounced /ˈnuː/ noo or /ˈnjuː/ nyoo), is an antelope of the genus Connochaetes. It is a hooved (ungulate) mammal. Wildebeest is Dutch for "wild beast".
Connochaetes includes two species, both native to Africa: the Black Wildebeest, or white-tailed gnu (C. gnou), and the Blue Wildebeest, or brindled gnu (C. taurinus). Gnus belong to the family Bovidae, which includes antelopes, cattle, goats, and other even-toed horned ungulates.
Wildebeest grow to 4 ft 2 in (1.27 m) to 4 ft 10 in (1.47 m) at the shoulder and weigh 265–600 lb (120–270 kg). They inhabit the plains and open woodlands of Africa, especially the Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania, and Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. Wildebeest can live more than 20 years.
Wildebeest are well known for their annual migration to new pastures. Many wildlife documentaries have featured this event, in which vast numbers of wildebeest can be seen crossing rivers, such as the Mara River and dying in large numbers as they attempt to reach the other side, because many of them are eaten by crocodiles while others simply drown. Although it is commonly assumed that this is simply a frenzy and that the wildebeest cross blindly, recent research has shown that a herd of gnu possesses what is known as a "swarm intelligence", whereby the animals systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one. Wildebeest have an apparent maximum running speed of around 64 km/h (40 mph).
The major predators that prey on Wildebeest are lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, and crocodiles, who seem to favor the Wildebeest. However, Wildebeest are very strong and can inflict considerable injury to even a lion. The primary defensive tactic is herding where the young animals are protected by the older larger ones while the herd runs as a group. Typically the predators attempt to cut out a young or ill animal and attack without having to worry about the herd. Wildebeest have developed some additional sophisticated cooperative behavior and scientists are unsure how much is learned behaviorally and how much is hard wired into the DNA of the animal. For example, at night the animals will take turns sleeping while others stand guard against a night attack by invading predators.