Originally, black wildebeest ranged the high veld temperate grasslands during the dry winter and the arid Karoo during the rains. However, due to hide-hunting in the 19th century, they were reduced to living on protected game farms in southern Africa.
The black wildebeest lived in grasslands similar to the habitat of the common wildebeest when it ranged free. However, with its thicker, darker coat, black wildebeest are able to range farther south than the Orange River, into colder climates. They rarely seek shade, and need little winter shelter. Black wildebeest eat the foliage of karroid bushes and shrubs. They live in somewhat arid regions and can subsist without drinking every day.
Black wildebeest are dark brown to black in color, males being darker in color than females. Both sexes become lighter in coat color in the summer, and develop shaggier coats in the winter. Additionally, black wildebeest have an area of longer, dark hair between the forelegs, covering the chest, and another patch of bristly black hair along the bridge of the nose. Male black wildebeest stand 111 to 121 cm high and can be up to 2m in length, females are slightly smaller. Paired horns curve down, forward, and then up, like hooks, and are up to 78 cm in length (slightly thinner and shorter in females). The base of the horns is widened and flattened to form a protective shield.
Females breed once yearly. The breeding season coincides with the end of the rainy season, February to April. Offspring gestate for 8 to 8.5 months; only 1 extremely precocial calf is born. Calving peaks in November-December. Calves can stand at 9 minutes post-parturition, and are grazing at least part time within one month. Calves are weaned after 4 months. Females mature at 1.5 to 2.5 years of age while males don’t mature until 3 years of age.