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).