Facts about Antelopes in Southern Africa
Antelopes are part of the large group of horn carriers (bovidae). In contrast to the animals carrying antlers, they have their horns lifelong. In most of the species only the male has horns, in some they are common to both genders. Of the gracious impalas (top) alone, the most widely spread species, there are an estimated 100,000 individuals living in South Africa, mainly in the Kruger Park.
The Eland, an ox-like antelope, is the largest in the world. It belongs to the ‘spiral-horned’ subfamily, along with the likes of kudu and bushbuck. There are two species. The first is the giant eland (Taurotragus derbianus) is slightly the larger of the two, and occurs in central and Western Africa. The second is the more familiar, common eland (Taurotragus oryx). It occurs in east and southern Africa, from Kenya to Botswana.
Eland inhabit open country, from montane grasslands to semi-deserts. They are shy and quick to retreat from disturbance, so a safari sighting is always something special. They are incredibly social animal.
Having successfully adapted to harsh conditions where scarce water and intense heat are the norm, its no surprise that this large mammal has solidified itself as the country’s national animal. The Oryx was chosen as Namibia’s national animal due to its courage, elegance and pride – with the national coat of arms bearing this unmistakable dweller of the desert.
The way in which Oryx conserve water is fascinating. Having to consume up to 3 liters of water per 100kg of body weight per day, they have successfully evolved to to extract water from fruit and vegetables such as the Tsamma melon to maximize their water intake, as well as concentrating their urine to decrease water output. These animals are perhaps also best known for their ability to wander far and wide when food and water is scarce, making them the quintessential Namibian animal.
Common / Blue Wildebeest
The Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) belongs to the family Bovidae and more importantly the tribe Alcelaphini. The key traits for this tribe are, large and medium sized antelopes, with high forequarters and sloping backs, both sex’s have horns, this is because they are grassland animals and females need the horns to deter predators and protect their young, as there is often not enough sufficient cover to hide from predators.
The Blue Wildebeest is also often called the Brindled Gnu, this is because of its coloration. It has dark bands over its shoulders and flanks which give it a brindled appearance. The Gnu term refers to its call, a Gnuuu Gnuuu sound.
Black Wildebeest / White-tailed gnu
The Black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) also known as White-tailed gnu, is an ungulate that lives in the savannas of central and eastern South Africa. The species historic range also included the open plains and grasslands of Lesotho and Swaziland.
However, indiscriminate hunting for their hides and habitat destruction for agricultureduring the 19th century reduced their numbers in the wild quite considerably.
Nowadays these African antelopes are found only on protected game farms in southern Africa. In the past black wildebeest inhabited the highveld temperate grasslands during the dry winter and in the rainy season they migrate to the arid to semiarid Karoo regions.
The sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) is one of Africa’s most beautiful and striking antelopes. It boasts a dainty head, graceful backward curving horns, a brushy upright mane, and a sleek coat. There are four subspecies of sable antelope including the common or southern, the Zambian or Kirk’s, the Roosevelt or Eastern, and the giant or Angolan. Depending on the subspecies, the coat of a mature male sable antelope is typically a dark brown to black in color. The female’s coat is generally more a rich sorrel or chestnut in color.
Most active in the early morning and late afternoon, sable antelope graze on a variety of short grasses abundant during the growing season and survive during the harsh dry seasonby browsing on herbs, bushes and trees. Water is visited at least every other day and no sable antelope will travel more then two miles from a watering hole or river.
Roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) are one of the most endangered antelope in Africa. Their colour varies from strawberry blonde to sandy blonde depending on the subspecies. The subspecies in Liuwa is the Angolan roan antelope which has a more reddish hue. Poaching and habitat encroachment are one of the greatest threats to this antelope. To add to their pile of woes – they do not adapt well to changes in their environment and are extremely sensitive to grass changes. They are also very territorial and anti-social, preferring not to be in the presence of other animals. This is the second largest antelope in Africa, after the eland.
Their name refers to their roan colour, which means that it is a reddish-brown. The bellies are white, as are the cheeks and eyebrows. The rest of the face is black.
The blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) is an African antelope species natively found only in South Africa. Historically their range occupied the central part of South Africa including the Eastern Cape, Free State, southern regions of the former Transvaal Province, and KwaZulu-Natal. They were also found in eastern Lesotho, west of the Maluti Mountain range.
Blesboks have a very distinctive feature, their unmistakable white face, and forehead, usually with a horizontal brown strip dividing it just above the eyes. It’s this feature which inspires their common name since “bles” in Afrikaans refers to the blaze found on the horse’s forehead.
The Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus) was once considered to be the rarest antelope in the world but careful conservation has ensured its survival. Today the Bontebok is only found in protected areas in South Africa. The story of the bontebok is an inspiration to conservationists all over the world. In the 1830s, after extensive hunting and habitat deprivation, the bontebok teetered on the verge of extinction. A few concerned people in the Bredasdorp area of the Cape set aside part of their farms as a reserve for the few remaining individuals. Here the bontebok struggled to survive, while outside these areas there were few, if any, to be found.
In 1931, 84 survivors were moved to the first Bontebok National Park. In 1961, when the present Bontebok National Park was proclaimed, the number had grown to 800, an incredible conservation success. These numbers meant that some animals could be relocated to other reserves and protected areas.
Tsessebe / Topi
Also known as the sassaby, the common tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus lunatus) is a close relative of the bontebok. It is somewhat comical in appearance; with high, sloped shoulders that descend to a small rump that does not look particularly strong. In fact, its entire body looks more clumsy than agile. However, when threatened, this has proven to be one of the fastest antelope in the bushveld of Africa. They can reach a running speed of up to 80 kilometres per hour. This is no mean feat when one considers that its peers are the mighty wildebeest and the elegant springbok. For the tsessebe, the horns play an important role in determining their age and in establishing dominance (by means of horning the ground). These horns are S-shaped and ringed. They wear down over the years, so older animals can be distinguished by their well-worn horns.
The red hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) is an ungainly-looking antelope, with a long narrow face, staring goat-like eyes with a tuft of hair under each one, and crooked horns. It is a reddy-brown colouring along its back, a black / brown colour on its face, chin, back of neck, shoulders, thighs and tail, and the lower part of its rump is off-white. Both sexes look alike, with the males being more sturdier built and with larger horns. They are extremely swift runners, and can reach speeds of up to 65km/h and have the stamina to maintain this over a long distance. Red hartebeest are pure grazers, and can live without water, as long as they can take their required moisture from their food.