gnu (nō) [key] or wildebeest wĭlˈdəbēstˌ, large African antelope, genus Connochaetes. Its heavy head and humped shoulders resemble those of a buffalo, while the compact hindquarters are like those of a horse. The gnu has a beard, a short, erect mane, and a long, flowing tail. Members of both sexes have large horns that curve down, outward, and up. Gnus are grazing animals and live in herds on open grassland. They constantly move in an effort to locate new pastures. The sight of a gnu migration, with its distinctive style of movement, is perhaps the most impressive group event in the animal kingdom. There are two species. The brindled gnu, or blue wildebeest ( Connochaetes taurinus ), is a large, fierce-looking animal of S and E Africa. It stands 41/2 ft (135 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs about 500 lb (225 kg); its coat is bluish-gray mottled with brown on the sides. The tail, mane, and beard are black. In the northern variety of this species (called the white-bearded gnu), which ranges as far N as Kenya, the beard is white. The brindled gnu lives in herds of 20 to several thousand individuals, often led by one or several old females and often found grazing with herds of zebra. Gnus are swift runners and herds engage in elaborate evasive maneuvers when threatened; their chief predator is the lion. They graze in the morning and evening, resting during the heat of the day; they often travel long distances in search of water. The white-tailed gnu, or black wildebeest ( C. gnou ), is a somewhat smaller animal once abundant in S Africa. It is now probably extinct in the wild, but is protected in parks and reserves, where its numbers are increasing. Gnu is the San (Bushman) term for these animals; wildebeest is Afrikaans. Gnus are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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