Roar Africa

Exploring Africa Since 1688

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wildebeest: Black, Blue and Other Colors of Gnu?

Wildebeest seem to be appearing in many colors lately.  Two weeks ago we posted a guest's sighting of a rare 'white wildebeest' spotted in Kenya (more about that here).  This week Geoff Calmeyer from Roar Africa shared his sandy-colored Wildebeest spotted in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.  Impossible?  Not at all.

Wildebeest (from Afrikaans "wild cattle") or Gnu (from the Khoikhoi "Gnou"), come in two species: Black and Blue.  They differ in a number of ways but primarily in horn curvature and, not surprisingly, color.   Colors can vary quite significantly.  Blue Wildebeest tend to be a dark grey color with stripes, but may have a shiny blue color. There are five Blue Wildebeest sub species.  The Black Wildebeest has brown colored fur with a mane that ranges in color from cream to black, and a tail that is cream colored at the end.  There are no sub species.

The white Wildebeest our guest spotted was in fact a genetic anomaly.  It was actually a Blue Wildebeest.  Geoff's sandy-colored Wildebeest is also a Blue Wildebeest.  It's one of five subspecies of the Blue - the Cookson's Wildebeest.  This sub-species is restricted to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia and as you can see it's coloring is very light.

Making things a little more complicated the Black and Blue Wildebeest (which diverged into these northern and southern species about 1 million years ago) have now, due to proximity in South Africa, interbred and with fertile offspring.

It's enough to confuse Gnu.

Top pic: White Wildebeest spotted in Masai Mara, Kenya

Bottom Pic: Cooksons Wildebeest spotted in Luangwa, Zambia


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