Some of you may remember the Flanders and Swann Gnu Song, a chorus of which is:
I’m a g-nu
A g-nother g-nu
I wish I could g-nash my teeth at you
I’m a g-nu
How d’you do?
You really ought to k-now wa-who’s wa-who
I’m a g-nu
Call me bison or okapi and I’ll sue
G-nor am I in the least
Like that dreadful hartebeest
Oh, g-no, g-no, g-no
G-no, g-no, g-no – I’m a g-nu
Gnus are called wildebeest (wild beast / ox) in this country. The etymology of this name goes back to the 1700s, when Dutch settlers encountered these animals on their exploratory travels inland from the coast. They dubbed them wildebeest because of their resemblance to cattle. Two species of wildebeest occur here: the Blue Wildebeest and the Black Wildebeest.
They occupy different natural habitats – although this is no guarantee of what you are looking at, given that some private game reserves import whatever animals they think their clients wish to see. Blue Wildebeest occur in habitats ranging from woodlands and grasslands to semi-desert areas, while Black Wildebeest prefer open grassland rather than areas with tall grass and dense vegetation. Habitat aside, it is more reliable to pay attention to the differences in the appearance of these animals.
The horns of the Blue Wildebeest go out to the side, then down before curving up.
The structure of the horns of the Black Wildebeest is very different as they go forward and down before curving up.
Even from a distance, one can tell the difference in colour between these wildebeest: the Blue Wildebeest is a dark greyish colour with dark vertical bands on the forequarters (giving them the alternative name of Brindled Gnu) and can, depending on the light, have a blueish sheen. They also have a beard of hair hanging from the throat and neck.
The Black Wildebeest is a distinct brown to blackish colour with furry skin. A distinctive difference between these animals is the creamy tail and lighter coloured mane of the Black Wildebeest (which is why they are also known as the White-tailed Gnu).
Whichever way you look at them Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) do not look like well-proportioned creatures. For a start, their heads seem to be too heavy and are covered with a shaggy fringe – see the tuft of stiff black hair on the top of the muzzle, the black beard and long fringe running underneath the neck all the way to the forelegs; their curving horns are close together at the base then curve outward, inward and slightly backward; their legs look delicate in relation to the rest of their bodies; most look as though the bones on their rumps are sticking out – unlike the sleekness of zebras or the well filled-out look of buffalo – and so, to my mind they look rather sad as if they were put together out of left overs.
It is when they raise their heads that one can appreciate their erect mane and long whitish tail – the latter has caused them to be known as White-tailed Gnu in some quarters.
Black Wildebeest are endemic to this country and prefer open grassland, where the vision is good. Herds of them roam these plains, with dominant bulls remaining in an area to defend their territory even once the others have moved on.
Regular readers will know that I derive a lot of satisfaction from finding out the derivation of the scientific names of plants, animals and birds. In the case of the Black Wildebeest, Connochaetes comes from the Greek word kónnos, which means ‘beard’, and gnou is an onomatopoeic Khoi-khoi word to describe the honking call these animals make, which is described as ge-nu.
It is amusing to watch the behaviour of Black Wildebeest when they feel threatened for they tend to gallop around in a circle or stand with their forelegs on the ground whilst kicking with their hind legs. They quickly run forward for a distance then stop to turn and look back to where they came from. To our eyes, this behaviour appears to be rather clown-like!
NOTE: Click on the photographs should you wish to see a larger image.
… and very hot! The sun sucks the moisture from the ground and desiccates the grass. It beats down on the rocks, creating shimmers of heat waves above them. The bees and flies seek whatever water they can find.
Bees and flies seeking water.
There have been recent newspaper reports on the plight of vultures in South Africa suffering from dehydration in this drought – everything needs water to survive. A tiny leak in a pipe becomes a welcome source of hydration for Pied Starlings.
Even though we are at the height of summer, there is little in the way of green grass to be seen.
In places one can only wonder how the animals find enough food to sustain them.
Beautiful vistas of the Karoo show how yellow the grass is – what will be left for winter grazing if the rains do not come?
Mountain Zebra National Park
We have spent a few glorious days camping in the Mountain Zebra National Park. It is a peaceful wonderland with an abundance of interesting birds, animals and insects to see.
Cape Mountain Zebra
The swimming pool at the rest camp is a ‘life-saver’ though after a game drive during which the temperature has soared to 38°C.
NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.
Naturally enough, we expect to see Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) in the Mountain Zebra National Park situated on the northern slopes of the Bankberg near Cradock.
While we saw a lot of them, a variety of antelope populate the area too. Among these are Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus caama):
This is a predominantly grazing species that prefers medium-height grass and so are plentiful in the plateau area of Rooiplaat and Juriesdam.
It is wonderful to see large herds of South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck (Antidorcas marsupialis), grazing in the veld all over the Park.
We did not see as many Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) as we have on previous visits. This one was bounding across the grassland with considerable haste.
It was very interesting to happen upon a small herd of Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula) and to watch how quickly and nimbly they could run up the steep, rocky, mountain slope!
The Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) were scattered here and there. They are mainly browsers rather than grazers.
Sizeable herds of Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) as well as individuals abound in the Park.