Black wildebeest are primarily grazers, eating grass and occasionally karroid shrubs and herbs (2) (3) (4). Grass makes up more than 90 percent of this species’ diet (6), and it prefers to graze on short grass, generally avoiding areas where the vegetation is longer and more mature (2). Water is preferred every day, but the black wildebeest may go several days without if it is unavailable (5). This species is most active in the early morning and late afternoon, resting during the hottest hours of the day (2) (4).
Before European settlement, the black wildebeest migrated in both east-west and north-south directions, probably following the rains and changing food availability. However, unlike the blue wildebeest (C. taurinus), it has not been known to migrate in mass numbers, and is now non-migratory as it is mostly confined to game reserves and farms (2) (5).
The breeding season of the black wildebeest varies slightly between different locations, but births usually peak from around November to December or January, after the first rains (2) (4) (5) (6). Most births occur within a two- to three-week period (2) (4). The female’s gestation period is just over eight months, and each female gives birth to a single calf (2) (3) (4) (5), which can stand up and follow the herd very soon after birth (3) (4). The large, curved horns of the adult black wildebeest start out straight in calves (3).
Black wildebeest calves are weaned by about nine months old and reach sexual maturity at about two years for females and three years for males (2) (4), although only males of four years and older are able to acquire a territory (2). The black wildebeest can live for around 19 years or more in captivity (2).
Adult male black wildebeest tend to live solitary lives or form small bachelor groups with other males. Females tend to be more aggressive than males, with male territorial displays consisting largely of only ritualised combat, and severe fights being rare (4) (5) (6). Female black wildebeest live in small herds with their young, and members of the herd show strong attachments to each other (2). Only territorial males can mate, and these males attempt to herd females into their territory (3) (4).
Predators of the black wildebeest include lions, hyaenas, leopards and wild dogs, but most black wildebeest populations now occur in game reserves with few large predators, meaning predation on this species is quite low (2). When disturbed by a human, wildebeest often prance about, paw at the ground and thrash their tails, or snort and dash off to a short distance away before turning to face the intruder. Both wildebeest species are fast runners, and have been recorded reaching speeds of around 80 kilometres per hour (4).