By Glenn W. Geelhoed


Safari, 2021


“Most all Gnus are Good Gnus,” we said in the lame abuse of the Ki-Swahili term for the wildebeest. But this term is easier to say than Connochaetes taurinus, the scientific name of the common blue, or brindled wildebeest. These common antelope number in the millions in Africa and have been exported as exotics into other arid parts of the world’s grasslands. Their migration patterns in following the rains and grasses they nourish constitute one of the great wildlife spectacles in the wild kingdom as a million migrants move through the Tanzanian Serengeti into the Masai Mara of Kenya in search of grazing grasslands. As they migrate, they drop calves while on the move, and attract a host of carnivore predators that stalk them. They must endure natural impediments such as their crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River and unnatural obstructions such as road traffic.


Their fecundity has overcome their many other deficits in intelligence and visual acuity, and they frequently borrow the assets of other species, such as the superior vision of zebras with whom they congregate. The wildebeest are ruminants, with multiple stomach chambers to digest the grasses they mow down in prodigious quantities, while the zebra is a horse Equs barychelid with a single-chambered stomach. They do not compete for the same food stock, and the zebra might tolerate their company as distracting alternative lion fodder.


I had scored on a big bull blue or brindled wildebeest and was eager to explore the variants and nuances within this numerous species and its close relatives. I had spotted on an earlier hunt in the Limpopo Province of South Africa the light-colored Golden Wildebeest, a trait that can be selected for and seems to breed true as a variant of the more common brindled wildebeest. I had hunted with SCI incoming President John McLaurin as we went in pursuit of the golden wildebeest but did not close the deal on this elusive color variant at the time, as I looked into it further with Charl Watts of Watts Trophy Safaris with whom I had enjoyed hunting.


The common blue wildebeest has a recessive gene for determining blonde or lighter color within the same species, a trait first noted along the Limpopo in Botswana bordering the South African Limpopo province. The distinctive golden color can be selected in breeding programs in game farms, and such selection began in the 1990s in South Africa to produce expanding populations of this color phase. The other features of its same-species mates remain similar, but the exotic golden hue makes this variant an exotic hunting trophy.

 Charl Watts and I teamed up with P J Erasmus of MEGA Springbok near De Aar in the Great Karoo Desert of the Northern Cape Province and went in pursuit of the golden wildebeest amid the bachelor bull herds of the vast game farms of the Karoo. While hunting springbok, we had encountered a few small herds of blue wildebeest herds numbering from four to eight, with most all of them of the characteristic brindled blue color pattern. Each herd, however, contained one or more golden wildebeest which did not seem to realize that they stood out in contrast to their more standard issue dress code neighbors. We had been within two hundred meters of the wildebeest while we were intent on the pursuit of the Springbok Slam, but when our attention was attracted by the golden wildebeest, they were on to us and vanished first out of range and then out of sight.


When we had set about in earnest to pursue the blonde wildebeest, they turned into a very elusive quarry. As we cast about in the tens of thousands of hectares of Kampfontein, we saw a few small groups of blue wildebeest, but their golden siblings had vanished. When we saw the tail end of one in rapid retreat into a dry river bed amid a series of rocky hills, we took off on foot in upwind pursuit.

We crossed the riverbank, which had last seen water seven years earlier, we spotted the wildebeest tracks and followed them into the desert scrub of blackthorn. This thorn bush blooms for a week with a white flower and it was this week of the Vernal Solstice in the Antipodes that the blackthorn was in bloom.


We followed the tracks through the white-on-black scrub and over bowling-ball size rocks to reach a spot where we might push the blackthorn aside and scan the far side with our binoculars. There were three blue wildebeest bulls standing facing us at 170 meters range. Between the two on the right was a flowering blackthorn that was unusually white in patches we had not seen before when glassing the area. On more careful view, it was a golden wildebeest bull staring at us with a large mop of white mane tossed over its forehead.


PJ eased forward to my right and pushed the blackthorn aside as Charl put up the shooting sticks and I slipped the .300 Ultra Mag into the fork. PJ had put his index finger into his left ear, aware that the rifle’s muzzle brake would be next to his left side. The big wildebeest bull was twitching its tail, and the other blue wildebeest were restless and preparing to bolt. The full-frontal view would be all that I would have on the golden bull, but I had a good rest, and softly squeezed the    trigger.


With a resounding “thump” the golden wildebeest was lifted up by the 150-grain solid and jumped free of the blackthorn bush to run to its left, where it collided with a big boulder and spun around to run across in front of me. Even before I re-chambered another round, it collapsed on top of a rocky ridge in full view of each of us who had watched this brief drama. We advanced to see that the golden wildebeest bull had been hit in the left chest and had fallen to a heart shot. It was not even necessary to move the bull from the position where it had fallen as if to pose in the rays of the afternoon sun slanting across a vast desertscape of the Karoo.

It was work getting the 260 kg bull winched into the pickup truck for caping  and processing back at the MEGA Springbok facilities where the 14½ year-old bull, several years past breeding, measured a respectable trophy scoring. It would be matched next to its brindled blue counterpart on the game room wall, but that left a space still for the other wildebeest species Connochaetes gnou, or the unique black wildebeest.


For this hunt, Charl Watts and I rode over to a vast stretch of the Great Karoo Desert and climbed up a ridge to scan the distant vistas as we glassed and saw white springboks and a group of black wildebeest. We swapped stories while sweeping vast Karoo scrub as we recounted events of the Boer War era that had occurred in this Northern Cape Province with its proximity to the Kimberly diamond pipe. We moved to get a wider angle perspective when we spotted a distant group of wildebeest coming toward the ridge on which we were stationed, still well over a mile away.


A group of six black wildebeest with their characteristic upswept curled horns appeared within five hundred meters and scattered such that the biggest of the bulls stood clear at a range of 351 meters. With a steady rest and compensating for the cross wind, the .300 Ultra Mag sent the 160-grain solid precisely where it was aimed and the wildebeest dropped.


We posed in front of the hilltop ridge on which we had sat as the backdrop with the setting sun gilding the black, or white-tailed, wildebeest in its native habitat.


We collected the trophy and went to the MEGA Springbok Lodge for its further processing while the sun set on our Wildebeest Slam. The cluster of the two species in the two-color phases is now heading toward display in the gameroom as a crystallized memory of an enjoyable shared experience in the Great Karoo.