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Bovids II: Hartebeests, Wildebeests, Gemsboks, Oryx, and Reedbucks (Hippotraginae)

Bovids II: Hartebeests, wildebeests, gemsboks, oryx, and reedbucks

(Hippotraginae)

Class Mammalia

Order Artiodactyla

Suborder Ruminantia

Family Bovidae

Subfamily Hippotraginae


Thumbnail description
Medium to large grazing antelopes, slender to heavily built; male horned (also female in some species); color white, gray, brown, red-brown, or black; some with prominent facial markings

Size
Body length 3.5–8.8 ft (105–265 cm); shoulder height 2.1–5.3 ft (65–160 cm); tail 4 in to 3.3 ft (10–100 cm); 42–680 lb (19–309 kg); horns 6 in to 5.5 ft (15–165 cm)

Number of genera, species
7 genera; 23 extant species, 1 recently extinct

Habitat
Dry to wet grasslands, wetlands, light woodland, savanna, and deserts up to 16,400 ft (5,000m)

Conservation status
Recently Extinct: 1 species; Extinct in the Wild: 1 species; Critically Endangered: 2 species; Endangered: 1 species; Lower Risk/Near Threatened: 1 species; Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent: 18 species

Distribution
Africa and Arabia

Evolution and systematics

The subfamily Hippotraginae, the grazing antelopes, includes 24 species in 11 genera. Fossil bovids first appear in early Miocene deposits; the earliest African material being from Libya about 20 million years ago. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA suggests there was a rapid radiation of the family in that period, perhaps in association with the emergence of savanna habitat in Africa, and that all living lineages had arisen by 16–17 million years ago (mya).

The subfamily classification used recognizes three tribes. The Reduncini includes nine species in three genera: Redunca (reedbucks) comprises the southern reedbuck (R. arundinum), bohor reedbuck (R. redunca), and mountain reedbuck (R. fulvorufula). Kobus contains the waterbuck (K. ellipsiprymnus), the lechwe (K. leche) and Nile lechwe (K. megaceros), the kob (K. kob), and the puku (K. vardonii). The gray rhebok (Pelea capreolus) is also included, although its classification is controversial and it is sometimes placed in its own subfamily (Peleinae), or even with the dwarf antelopes (Antilopinae; Neotragini) or goats (Caprinae).

The Alcelaphini, with eight species in five genera, includes the black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou), the blue wildebeest (C. taurinus), the sassabies, and the hartebeests. The sassabies comprise three species: Hunter's hartebeest (D. hunteri), the blesbok and bontebok (D. pygargus), and the topi (D. lunatus), while the hartebeests include the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) and Lichtenstein's hartebeest (A. lichtensteini). The impala (Aepyceros melampus) is sometimes placed in the Antilopinae, or in its own subfamily (Aepycerotinae), but it is now thought to be an early offshoot of the Alcelaphini.

The horse-like antelopes (Hippotragini) have seven species in three genera. Hippotragus contains the extinct bluebuck (H. leucophaeus), the roan (H. equinus), and the sable (H. niger), plus three oryx species, the scimitar-horned oryx

(Oryx dammah), the Arabian oryx (O. leucoryx), and the gemsbok (O. gazella). The addax (Addax nasomaculatus) is also included.

Some authorities elevate these tribes to subfamily status (Reduncinae, Alcelaphinae, and Hippotraginae).

Alcelaphines appeared first in the fossil record about five mya and appear to be almost wholly African in their evolution. Early Pleistocene remains of Pelea are known, while Hippotragus species and the southern reedbuck first appear in the middle and upper Pleistocene. Earlier Redunca species appeared in the late Pliocene or lower Pleistocene, at which time the first Kobus fossils are recorded. Fossil Aepycerotine over three million years old are known from East Africa.

Physical characteristics

The Reduncini is an assemblage of medium to large species, the males having strongly ridged horns that are short and curve forward at the tips in reedbucks, but long and lyreshaped in most Kobus species. The reedbucks are pale brown in color, with short hair. Kobus species have a long, rough coat. Color varies from yellowish brown to mid-brown or bright chestnut, males being darker, some almost black. The underparts are white, and there is also white on the rump and often on the face. Lechwes are higher at the hindquarters than at the shoulders, and have long pointed hooves and large pseudo-claws, an adaptation to their semi-aquatic existence. The smallest species, the gray rhebok, is lightly built with short, almost vertical horns and a grayish woolly coat.

With the exception of the impala, the Alcelaphini are medium to large, with horns in both sexes, either smooth and initially curving downward (Connochaetes) or upright, ridged basally and twisted (other genera). They have long heads, elevated shoulders, and thin legs. Color varies from gray to reddish brown or almost black. Wildebeests have a mane, a beard, and a very long, tufted tail; the black wildebeest also has a tuft of stiff hairs on the face. The impala is medium sized, slender and gazelle-like, with long, lyrate horns only in the male.

The Hippotragini are large and horse-like, with a long, tufted tail. Both sexes have long, ridged horns that may be straight, backwardly curved, or spirally twisted. All species except the addax have a mane. Colors range from white, cream, or gray (desert species) to chestnut; sable bulls are black. There is often a conspicuous head pattern. Desert species have large, widely splayed hooves for traveling in sand. The extinct blue antelope was a smaller, lightly built species, standing only 3.3–3.9 ft (100–120 cm) high at the shoulder, with a blue-gray coat and curved, swept-back horns.

Distribution

The Hippotraginae are confined to Africa and Arabia. The members of the tribe Reduncini are grassland and wetland antelopes, the bohor and southern reedbuck occupying northern and southern lowland savannas, respectively, while the mountain reedbuck occurs in three widely separated relict populations in Cameroon, East Africa, and southeast Africa. The waterbuck is widespread in sub-Saharan savannas, the ellipsiprymnus group of subspecies ranging from East Africa to southern Africa, almost entirely east of the Great Rift Valley, and the defassa group occurring west of the rift. The lechwes are confined to wetlands of central-southern Africa and Sudan/Ethiopia, while the kob and the puku occur in the northern and southern savanna zones, respectively. The gray rhebok is confined to upland areas of South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

In the Hippotragini, the roan antelope ranges from Senegal east to Ethiopia and south to South Africa, while the sable antelope is largely confined to eastern Africa. The other members of this tribe are dry-country species: the addax and the scimitar-horned oryx occur in the Sahel and Sahara zones, the Arabian oryx in the Arabian peninsula, and the gemsbok in East Africa and southwestern Africa.

Restricted-range species within the Alcelaphini include the blesbok/bontebok of South Africa and Hunter's hartebeest of Kenya and Somalia. The topi has a fragmented distribution in savannas from Senegal east to Ethiopia and south to South Africa. Lichtenstein's hartebeest occurs in savanna from East Africa to southern Africa, while the red hartebeest ranges from Senegal to Somalia and south to Tanzania, and from southern Angola to Zimbabwe and South Africa. The blue wildebeest occurs in grasslands from Kenya and Angola to South Africa, but the black wildebeest only in South Africa. The impala is widespread in savanna woodland from Kenya to Angola and South Africa.

Habitat

The Hippotraginae have colonized all African grassland habitats from permanently inundated swamps to montane grasslands, the dry Sahel region, and the Sahara and Namib deserts.

Oryx species and the addax frequent the most arid areas. Addax are true desert antelopes, while gemsbok occur in grassland, dry steppe, light open woodland, brush savannas, and stony plains, as well as semi-desert and desert. Scimitar-horned oryx favored semi-desert and grassy steppes, while Arabian oryx occupied similar habitat in the Arabian and Sinai peninsulas. The other two members of the Hippotragini, the roan and sable antelopes, inhabit moist grasslands and open woodlands.

The Alcelaphini occupy the fertile grasslands and woodlands of the moist northern and southern savannas. The topi specializes on the grass of valley bottoms and intermediate vegetation zones. Red hartebeest favor the margins of woods, scrub, and grassland, while Lichtenstein's hartebeest prefers mixed open woodland and floodplain grassland. Blesbok, bontebok, and black wildebeest occur in South African grasslands, while the blue wildebeest ranges over open grasslands and

woodlands of the southern savannas, being particularly common where grass is short after fire or grazing by other species. The impala inhabits the open woodlands in central and southern Africa.

Wetlands and montane grasslands are the home of the Reduncini. The southern and bohor reedbucks inhabit lowland floodplains and inundated grasslands of the southern and northern savannas, respectively, while the waterbuck lives in savanna and woodland adjacent to wetlands. Lechwe occur at floodplains and seasonally inundated swamps, while the puku and the kob inhabit moist savannas, floodplains, and the margins of adjacent light woodland. The mountain reedbuck and gray rhebok inhabit upland grasslands, the rhebok often in more exposed and rocky situations.

Behavior

Most species are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. Some such as the roan antelope and the desert oryx species are also active at night. The southern reedbuck is largely nocturnal when food and water are plentiful, but becomes more active during the day in the dry season. Desert oryx species and the addax excavate scrapes with their front legs in the shade of bushes or rocks, in which they rest during the heat of the day.

Socialization is poorly developed in the reedbucks and the gray rhebok, which live singly or in pairs, or in small groups of females and young that either live within the territories of single males or range over a few male territories. The other species in the subfamily are more social and occur in larger groups. In most species, adult males hold territories (often year-round), females and young form herds, often with a distinct hierarchy and led by a dominant female, and non-territorial adult males form bachelor herds. During the rutting season, territorial males mate with females from herds entering their territories.

Lechwe occur in large aggregations, while kob and topi also sometimes occur at a high density. In such situations, these species usually maintain territorial breeding grounds (leks) during the rut. When population density is not high, kob and topi do not lek, but individual males hold small territories.

Addax and oryx have a tight social structure, with a smallish herd centered on one or more adult bulls and with a hierarchy of adults of both sexes.

Several different methods are used to mark territories. Reduncines lack functional pedal and pre-orbital glands and do not physically mark the habitat; reedbuck advertise the territory by whistling. Rhebok mark the territory with urine and preputial gland secretions. The Alcelaphini use pedal glands and dung middens, while facial or pre-orbital gland secretions are mainly used to mark the body. Sable use visual marks (vegetation damage), feces, pedal scent, and display.

Elaborate dominance displays and appeasement behavior often replace or reduce aggression, and it is uncommon for serious injury to result from fighting. However, gray rhebok sometimes have serious fights in which individuals are killed. Sable, roan, and the Alcelaphini are unusual in that males fight in a kneeling position. The demands of a hierarchical society have given rise to unique ritualized oryx tournaments, in which herd members run around in circles with sudden spurts of galloping and ritualized pacing interspersed with brief horn clashes.

Courtship displays include approaching in an erect or a low stretch posture, prancing with nose-lifting, male walking behind female (mating march), foreleg-lifting, and urine testing (in gray rhebok, impala, the Hippotragini, and the wildebeests).

Many species wander in response to the availability of food. Lechwe follow the rising and falling waters of their floodplain habitats, feeding on exposed grasses. Scimitar-horned oryx migrate seasonally in search of grazing areas. Blue wildebeest may be sedentary, nomadic, or migratory, depending on the local distribution of rain and green grass; the regular and spectacular migrations of the herds in the Serengeti of Tanzania are famous.

Feeding ecology and diet

The Hippotraginae are primarily grazers, although several species also browse during the dry season, while desert and semidesert species supplement a basic diet of grass with food such as acacia seed pods, wild melons, cucumbers, tubers, and bulbs.

The addax is adapted to coarse food and the absence of water in its desert habitat. It can apparently sense patches of

vegetation at long distance and obtains sufficient water from its food. The scimitar-horned oryx eats a variety of grasses and forbs, utilizing plants with relatively high water and protein content. Because of its ability to locate these plants, and to physiologically conserve water, it is capable of going for long periods without drinking. The gemsbok can go without water for several days, but drinks at streams and waterholes when water is available. Oryx are experts at finding water and often dig into dried riverbeds to access ground water. Roan and sable are mainly grazers, but will also browse, particularly during the dry season.

The mountain reedbuck is adapted to a coarse, fibrous diet and can go for long periods without water. The other reedbuck species, and the waterbuck, predominantly graze on grasses and reed shoots. Lechwe eat mainly grasses, but also eat sedges and other semi-aquatic plants, and often graze in water up to shoulder height. Pukus also predominantly eat grasses. The gray rhebok predominantly browses on shrubs and forbs.

Wildebeest eat grass, but the black wildebeest will browse during the winter. Blue wildebeest prefer areas of short grass, especially that sprouting on burnt areas or after rain. The sassabies are almost exclusively grazers, while the impala is an intermediate mixed feeder, largely grazing in the rains, but often browsing extensively in the dry season.

Reproductive biology

Reproductive cycles are often closely linked to the annual rainfall pattern so that, in regions with distinct rainy and dry seasons, births often peak in or near the rains. However, several species show no marked seasonal peak in breeding, for example, the Arabian oryx and the beisa oryx produce calves in any month, while roan produce a calf about every 10.5 months.

All Hippotraginae species bear single offspring, although waterbuck occasionally have twins. Estrus lasts for a day in territorial species and several days or more in non-territorial species. Gestation is 8–9 months in larger species and 6.5–8 months in the smaller species, but the gray rhebok has a nine-month gestation period.

In most species, the female leaves the herd or family group to give birth. Most species produce relatively helpless young that lie hidden for a period varying from only 1–2 days (impala) to two months or more (reedbucks). However, female wildebeest bear calves within the herd and the young can run a few minutes after birth. Young tsessebe (Damaliscus l. lunatus) are also able to keep up with the herd from shortly after birth.

Females return to hidden calves to suckle them. In herding species, calves associate together when they rejoin the herd, returning to the mother for nursing and in emergencies.

In most species, weaning takes place at 6–8 months, but blesbok, topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela), and black wildebeest are weaned at four months. Addax and scimitar-horned oryx, which live in very arid environments where water is at a premium, wean their young at only 3.5 months. In contrast, young Lichtenstein's hartebeest are not weaned until they are 12 months old.

In most species, females begin breeding when 1–2 years old. Males may be sexually mature at 18 months to 2 years, but often have to wait for several more years before they can occupy a territory; they do not breed until 4–6 years of age. Longevity varies with species, being about 10 years in some (e.g., reedbuck) and reaching 20 years in the black wildebeest, scimitar-horned oryx, and Lichtenstein's hartebeest.

Conservation status

Populations of all species have suffered declines in recent years, and their ranges have been reduced, largely as a result of habitat loss (especially due to agriculture and competition from domestic stock), human disturbance, hunting, and poaching. Droughts and disease have also seriously affected some species. Wetland-dependent species have been affected by damming and draining; for example, after the damming of the Kafue River for a hydroelectric scheme in 1978, the population of the Kafue lechwe (Kobus leche kafuensis), originally about 94,000, was halved. As a result of these factors, the survival of all species is of concern.

The bluebuck is the first historically recorded African mammal to become extinct. It may have been declining from natural causes since the Pleistocene and its grazing habitat may have been adversely affected by the introduction of domestic sheep from about a.d. 400. In the eighteenth century, the first European settlers found it relatively uncommon, occurring only in a small coastal area of the southwestern Cape. It was quickly driven to extinction by hunting and settlement pressure, and was last recorded in 1799–1800.

Two races of living species have also become extinct recently. Roberts' lechwe (Kobus leche robertsi) occurred in northwestern Zambia, while the bubal hartebeest (Alcelaphus b. buselaphus) was formerly widespread in North Africa, but died out in the late 1920s.

The scimitar-horned oryx once ranged through much of the Sahelian grassland and scrubland on the northern and southern fringes of the Sahara. There have been no sightings in the wild since the late 1980s, and it is listed as Extinct in the Wild. It is a victim of habitat loss from overgrazing, droughts, warfare, hunting, and competition with domestic cattle. Worldwide, at least 1,250 are kept in zoos and private facilities, and more than 2,000 are on ranches in Texas. It is the second most common antelope in captivity. Since 1985, reintroductions have been made to national parks in Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal.

Two species and one race are Critically Endangered. The addax is now reduced to about 250 individuals in the wild. Hunter's hartebeest had declined to about 300 individuals in 1995; apparently, only one exists in captivity. Competition with domestic cattle played a large role in its decline, although severe drought and poaching are also factors. The giant sable (Hippotragus niger variani) of northern Angola has an uncertain future.

The Endangered Arabian oryx has been saved from extinction by captive breeding in zoos. The red hartebeest, formerly abundant and widespread throughout much of Africa, has suffered a great reduction in range and numbers from hunting, habitat modification, and competition from cattle. The subspecies swaynei and tora, formerly occurring

from Egypt to Somalia, are Endangered. Much of their remaining range in Sudan and Ethiopia was devastated by drought in the 1980s and few are thought to survive. Also Endangered is the western mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula adamauae), confined to Cameroon and Nigeria.

The five Vulnerable races include the bontebok, the black-faced impala, and the korrigum (Damaliscus lunatus korrigum), found from Senegal to Cameroon. Two races of the lechwe are Vulnerable: the black lechwe (K. l. smithemani) of northeastern Zambia and the Kafue lechwe (K. l. kafuensis) of the Kafue Flats in southern Zambia.

In addition, 18 species are classed as Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent, and the Nile lechwe as Lower Risk/Near Threatened.

Significance to humans

The Arabian oryx was one of the earliest semi-domesticated animals. Herds were kept in ancient Egypt, and oryx meat was apparently a regular food item of Solomon's household. The species also appears in Roman mosaics and Juvenal records that gourmets approved its meat. Oryx horns have had a phallic significance for many cultures and are sought after as charms. The legendary unicorn was possibly based on the Arabian oryx.

Addax were also kept in large numbers in ancient Egypt. They were stabled, fed from troughs, led on a bridle, and were probably slaughtered for ceremonies. The ancient Egyptians are also said to have domesticated hartebeest, but probably not particularly successfully, as in captivity this animal is difficult to breed and is aggressive.

In some parts of Masailand, East Africa, blue wildebeest were formerly captured as calves and run with cattle, while lactating females were used to feed cattle calves and thus save cows' milk for human consumption. In East Africa, young bohor reedbuck are sometimes reared in captivity and herded with goats.

Hippotraginae species have always been hunted for their meat, hides, and horn by the indigenous peoples of Africa and Arabia. The more recent history of these antelopes has been one of increasing persecution and elimination, not only by subsistence hunting, but also for sport and trophies, and because they potentially compete with expanding agriculture and human settlement for habitat.

The diet of the Alcelaphini and of cattle is broadly similar so that these antelope have come to be regarded as competitors for grazing land, and populations have thus been persecuted and often largely exterminated as a result of livestock expansion. Large populations of kob and other reduncines are unlikely to survive unless their potential for sustained yield cropping is realized. The kob is especially suited to this, while the topi can coexist with cattle after the carrying capacity for livestock has been reached and thus has potential for multiple land-use. Impala, which are numerous on many cattle ranches, are commonly cropped for their meat and hides.

Hippotragine antelopes are very popular in zoos and on farms and ranches, and such institutions have played a great part in maintaining captive populations of several endangered species and in building up stocks for reintroductions.

Species accounts

List of Species

Southern reedbuck
Waterbuck
Nile lechwe
Black wildebeest
Blesbok/Bontebok
Lichtenstein's hartebeest
Addax
Arabian oryx
Sable antelope
Impala

Southern reedbuck

Redunca arundinum

taxonomy

Antilope arundinum (Boddaert, 1785), Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Two subspecies.

other common names

English: Common reedbuck; French: Cobe des roseaux; German: Grossriedbock; Spanish: Redunca comun.

physical characteristics

Body length 4–5.3 ft (120–160 cm); shoulder height 2.1–3.5 ft (65–105 cm); tail length 7.2–12 in (18–30 cm); 86–209 lb (39–95 kg); female smaller than male. Horns 10–18.4 in (25–46 cm). Light brown to gray brown with whitish rings around eyes. Bushy tail is white underneath.

distribution

Subspecies R. a. occidentalis: southern Gabon to Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Angola and Tanzania, Zambia, and probably northern Malawi and Mozambique; subpecies R. a. arundinum: northeastern Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and eastern South Africa.

habitat

Valley and upland grasslands. Requires tall grass, reedbeds, or herbaceous cover, and water.

behavior

Old bucks hold permanent territories, usually with an attendant female; other individuals solitary, or in loose herds of up

to 20 animals in the dry season. Runs with an odd rocking-horse motion; characteristic call is a shrill whistle.

feeding ecology and diet

Eats grasses and reed shoots; may browse during dry season.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Gestation period 7.5 months. Births occur all year, but peak December–May. Weaning age unknown; sexually mature at 1.5 years. Lifespan 10 years.

conservation status

Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Range and numbers reduced significantly in some areas due to habitat loss and hunting; in Malawi, now largely confined to reserves.

significance to humans

Hunted for sport and for food.


Waterbuck

Kobus ellipsiprymnus

taxonomy

Antilope ellipsiprymnus (Ogilby, 1833), Molopo River, Lataku, Namibia.

other common names

English: Common waterbuck, defassa waterbuck; French: Cobe à croissant, cobe defassa; German: Ellipsenwasserbock, Defassa Wasserbock; Spanish: Antilope aquatico.

physical characteristics

Body length 6–7.3 ft (180–220 cm); shoulder height 3.3–4.3 ft (100–130 cm);tail 8.8–18 in (22–45 cm); males 470–680 lb (217–308 kg), females 350–400 lb (158–181 kg). Horns 1.6–3.3 ft (55–100 cm). Long, shaggy brown-gray coat with conspicuous white ring encircling rump.

distribution

The ellipsiprymnus group (white ring on rump): eastern Africa from southern Somalia south through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, eastern and southern Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to extreme southeast Namibia (Caprivi), southern Botswana, central Mozambique, and extreme northeastern South Africa (Zululand); defassa group: Senegal east to Ethiopia and south to Angola, east and southeast Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most of Zambia; hybrids with ellipsiprymnus group occur in areas of overlap.

habitat

Always associated with water; principally in grassland habitats, especially floodplains, small drainage systems, and valleys; also rocky hills, savanna, scrub, and woodland.

behavior

Groups of up to 30 females and young wander over a home range of 494–1,483 acres (200–600 ha), which encompasses several male territories. At 5–7 years, males become territorial, staking out areas of 150–625 acres (61–253 ha). About 5–10% of mature males are territorial.

feeding ecology and diet

A grazer, eating protein-rich medium and short grasses; sometimes feeds in water. Also eats foliage, reeds, and herbs when green grass is unavailable. Requires permanent access to water.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Breeds throughout the year. Gestation period 8.5–9 months; weaned at 6–7 months; females sexually mature at 12–14 months, males at 14–18 months. Lifespan 18 years.

conservation status

Both races are Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Populations are apparently decreasing due to poaching and human encroachment along riverine habitat, and protected areas are important for the species' survival.

significance to humans

Hunted for sport, creating a strong motive to provide effective protection and management. Waterbuck have a high exhibit value in zoo collections.


Nile lechwe

Kobus megaceros

taxonomy

Antilope megaceros (Fitzinger, 1855), Sobat River, Bahr-el-Ghazal, Sudan. Monotypic.

other common names

English: Mrs. Gray's lechwe; French: Cobe leche du Nil; German: Nile litschi; Spanish: Lechwe de Nilo.

physical characteristics

Body length 4.5–5.5 ft (135–165 cm); shoulder height 2.6–3.5 ft (80–105 cm); tail 18–20 in (45–50 cm); 132–264 lb (60–120 kg);

horns 18–35 in (45–87 cm) long. Males have chocolate brown coat with white shoulder patches; females' coat is uniformly rufous in color.

distribution

Most wild populations occur in the Sudd ecosystem of southern Sudan. Smaller populations in the Machar marshes of the upper Nile near Ethiopia and in Ethiopia (Gambella National Park).

habitat

Almost entirely in floodplains, freshwater marshes, and swamps.

behavior

Expert waders and swimmers, they move in leaps through water too shallow to swim through. One male may control a harem herd of 50 or more females. Males may utter squeaky grunts when fighting, which they often do in water. Females give toad-like croaks when on the move.

feeding ecology and diet

Eats grasses and water plants.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Gestation period 7–8 months; young weaned after four months. Females sexually mature 1.5 years, males at 2.5 years. Lifespan at least 10 years.

conservation status

Lower Risk/Near Threatened. The wild population is estimated at 30,000–40,000 animals (almost 95% of these in the Sudd), and is potentially jeopardized by water development projects that reduce their habitat. The remoteness of the Sudd protects them from most forms of commercial or trophy hunting.

significance to humans

Hunted where populations are accessible to people.


Black wildebeest

Connochaetes gnou

taxonomy

Antilope gnou (Zimmerman, 1780), Cape Province, South Africa. Monotypic.

other common names

English: White-tailed gnu; French: Gnou à queue blanche; German: Weißschwanzgnu; Spanish: Nu negro.

physical characteristics

Body length 5.6–7.3 ft (170–220 cm); shoulder height 3–4 ft (90–120 cm); tail 2.6–3.3 ft (80–100 cm); 242–396 lb (110–180 kg), female smaller than male. Horns 18–31 in (45–78 cm). Dark brown to black, males darker than females. Both have lighter coats in summer and heavier coats in winter. Bristly mane stands up on neck and is cream to white, with black tips. Beard is black.

distribution

East-central South Africa, mainly eastern northern Cape and Free State: formerly central Cape Province to Natal and southern Transvaal.

habitat

Open plains, formerly in Karoo (arid shrublands) and grassland.

behavior

Females and young form closely knit herds with a distinct hierarchy; males form bachelor groups. Territorial conflicts involve ritualized posturing and horn wrestling, accompanied by a blaring "ge-nu" call. Possibly originally had extensive movements or migrations, now restricted by fencing.

feeding ecology and diet

Primarily a grazer, preferring short grasses; in winter, also browses on karroid bushes.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. The primary mating season is February–April. Gestation period 8–8.5 months; calves are born in November–January. Young weaned after four months. Females sexually mature at 1.5–2.5 years, males at three years. Lifespan up to 20 years.

conservation status

Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. No truly wild animals remain, all being descended from captive individuals.

significance to humans

These animals were almost exterminated by white settlers, who viewed them as pests, and also valued their tails, which they used as fly swats.


Blesbok/Bontebok

Damaliscus pygargus

taxonomy

Antilope pygargus (Pallas, 1767), Cape Province, South Africa. Two subspecies.

other common names

French: Blesbok, bontebok, Damalisque à front blanc; German: Blessbok, Buntbok; Spanish: Blesbok.

physical characteristics

Body length 4.6–5.3 ft (140–160 cm); shoulder height 2.8–3.3 ft (85–100 cm); tail 12–18 in (30–45 cm); 121–220 lb (55–100 kg). Horns 14–20 in (35–50 cm). Dark brown coat, white belly and inside legs. White face patch, ears.

distribution

D. p. phillipsi east-central South Africa; D. p. dorcas small area of southwestern Cape.

habitat

Grasslands of the highveld and coastal plains.

behavior

Male bontebok hold permanent territories of 10–69 acres (4–28 ha). Blesbok males defend territories of 22–101 acres (9–41 ha) only during the rut; in the dry season, both sexes and all ages may congregate in large herds.

feeding ecology and diet

Predominantly grazers, although blesbok browse occasionally.

reproductive biology

Rutting in March–May (blesbok) and January–March (bontebok). Polygynous. Gestation 238–254 days. Female stays with herd when giving birth to young in November–January (blesbok) and September–November (bontebok). Weaned after four months; sexually mature at 2.5 years. Longevity 17 years.

conservation status

The blesbok is Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Its distribution is largely artificial and it occurs in protected herds on fenced reserves and farms. The bontebok is Vulnerable. It was hunted almost to extinction in the nineteenth century, but was saved by protection from a few enlightened farmers. After the establishment of the Bontebok National Park in 1931, numbers increased and stocks were introduced to other farms and reserves.

significance to humans

Both races were formerly hunted extensively.


Lichtenstein's hartebeest

Sigmoceros lichtensteinii

taxonomy

Bubalis lichtensteinii (Peters, 1849), Tete, Mozambique. Monotypic.

other common names

French: Bubale de Lichtenstein; German: Lichtensteins Kuhantilope, Konzi; Spanish: Bubalo de Lichtenstein.

physical characteristics

Body length 5.3–5.7 ft (160–200 cm); shoulder height 4–5 ft (120–135 cm); tail 16–20 in (40–50 cm); 275–440 lb (125–200 kg). Horns 16–24 in (40–60 cm). Sandy yellow with reddish "saddle." Tail is black.

distribution

Tanzania, southeast Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeast Angola, Zambia, Malawi, southeast Zimbabwe, and northern Mozambique.

habitat

Savanna, associated with ecotones of open woodland, vleis, and floodplains.

behavior

Gregarious, usually in harem herds of up to 10 (rarely 15) females and young led by an adult male, who defends a permanent territory of about 1 mi2 (2.5 km2) year-round.

feeding ecology and diet

Almost exclusively a grazer, taking a wide variety of grasses; occasionally eats tree leaves and fruit. Dependent on surface water.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Rutting in November–February; gestation period 240 days; young born July–September. Weaned at 12 months; sexual maturity probably at two years. Lifespan 20 years.

conservation status

Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Range has contracted, at least in extreme south, due to hunting, habitat loss, and human encroachment.

significance to humans

Hunted for food.


Addax

Addax nasomaculatus

taxonomy

Cerophorus nasomaculatus (Blainville, 1816), probably Senegambia. Monotypic.

other common names

French: Addax; German: Mendesantilope; Spanish: Addax.

physical characteristics

Body length 3.6–4.3 ft (110–130 cm); shoulder height 3.1–3.8 ft (95–115 cm); tail 10–14 in (25–35 cm); 132–275 lb (60–125 kg). Horns 2–3.6 ft (60–109 cm) in male, 1.8–2.6 ft (55–80 cm) in female.

distribution

Historically ranged over entire Sahara Desert; now restricted to isolated populations in south Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad. Probably extinct in western Sudan.

habitat

Desert and semidesert, with sand dunes, hard-packed terrain, and scant vegetation.

behavior

Formerly probably lived in family groups of 5–20 individuals led by dominant male, with social hierarchy based probably on age; now found only in groups of 2–4. Nomadic, following rains.

feeding ecology and diet

Eats desert grasses, succulents, herbs, and tender young shoots of shrubs and trees. Obtains all water from food.

reproductive biology

Gestation period 257–264 days (8.5 months). Young born primarily in winter and spring; weaning at 3.5 months; females sexually mature at 1.5 years, males at three years. Lifespan up to 20 years in managed environments.

conservation status

Critically Endangered; CITES I. Fewer than 250 remain in the wild. Competition with goats, disturbance from people, prolonged droughts, wars, and harassment by tourists in vehicles are all problems. Over 1,000 are registered in zoological collections worldwide, and in the United States, 2,000 are owned by private individuals. Reintroductions were initiated in Tunisia in 1985–1988 and in Morocco in 1994–1997.

significance to humans

Addax have been hunted extensively for their horns, meat and skin.


Arabian oryx

Oryx leucoryx

taxonomy

Antilope oryx (Pallas, 1777), Arabia. Monotypic.

other common names

French: Oryx d'Arabie; German: Arabischer spiessbock; Spanish: Orix de Arabia.

physical characteristics

Body length 5.3 ft (160 cm); shoulder height 2.7–3.4 ft (81–102 cm); tail 1.5–2 ft (45–60 cm); 143–165 lb (65–75 kg). Horns 1.6–2.2 ft (50–68 cm). Sandy pelage.

distribution

Formerly, found in most of Arabian Peninsula, Sinai Peninsula, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. Reintroduced to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel.

habitat

Barren steppes, semideserts, and deserts; prefers gravel plains and fringes of sand desert.

behavior

Lives in groups of 2–15, led by adult bull. Bulls establish territories when conditions permit; bachelor males are solitary. Moves toward rain, sometimes for hundreds of miles (kilometers), to find food.

feeding ecology and diet

Eats primarily grasses; also herbs, buds, leaves, fruit, and roots. Can exist for weeks without water.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Gestation period 8.5–9 months; young born at any time of year. Weaning after 3.5 months; attains sexual maturity at 1.5–2 years. Lifespan up to 20 years.

conservation status

Endangered; CITES I. Saved from extinction by captive breeding in zoos. The last wild individuals were probably killed in 1972. In the 1950s, efforts were made to establish captive herds in Arabia. In 1962, several were exported to the United States to be placed in a breeding facility in the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona. Successful reintroductions began in Oman in 1982 and there are more than 3,000 animals in captivity in North America. Recently, poaching has become a serious problem and, in 1996, Oman's reintroduced population was reduced to about 130 animals. The demand for captive animals in the region is a major conservation problem.

significance to humans

Hunted to the brink of extinction for its meat, hide, and exquisite horns.


Sable antelope

Hippotragus niger

taxonomy

Aigocerus niger (Harris, 1838), near Pretoria, South Africa.

other common names

French: Hippotrague noir; German: Rappenantilope; Spanish: Antilope sable.

physical characteristics

Body length 6.3–8.5 ft (190–255 cm); shoulder height 3.9–4.7 ft (117–143 cm); tail 1.3–2.5 ft (40–75 cm); 420–660 lb (190–300 kg), female smaller than male. Horns 2.6–5.5 ft (80–165 cm) in males, 2–3.3 ft (60–100 cm) in females.

distribution

H. n. roosevelti: extreme southeastern Kenya through Tanzania;H. n. kirkii: Zambia, presumably eastern Angola and southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, also probably Malawi and Mozambique; H. n. niger: southwestern Zambia, north and northeast Botswana, Zimbabwe, and extreme northeastern South Africa, limits not clear; H. n. variani (giant sable): Angola, between Cuanza and Loando rivers.

habitat

Dry open woodlands and medium-tall grass savannas.

behavior

Herds of up to 30 females and young have home range 59–198 acres (24–80 ha). Herds of 200–300 recorded in dry season. Bulls hold territories of 62–99 acres (25–40 ha).

feeding ecology and diet

Eats grasses; during the dry season will also browse on herbs, bushes, and trees. Drinks at least once a day.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Breeding seasonal, births occurring during rains. Gestation period about nine months; weaning at eight months; sexually mature at 2–3 years. Lifespan 17 years.

conservation status

Race variani is Critically Endangered: only about 1,000 remain, and their future is unpredictable; none are held in captivity. The other races are Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. The wild population was believed stable at around 54,000 individuals in 1998, 75% of these in protected natural habitat.

significance to humans

Valued as a trophy species, also hunted for meat.


Impala

Aepyceros melampus

taxonomy

Antilope melampus (Lichtenstein, 1812), Cape Province, South Africa. Six subspecies.

other common names

French: Impala; German: Impala; Spanish: Impala.

physical characteristics

Body length 4–5.3 ft (120–160 cm); shoulder height 2.5–3.1 ft (75–95 cm); tail 12–18 in (30–45 cm); 88–176 lb (40–80 kg); male larger than female. Horns 18–37 in (45–92 cm). Red brown coat with white chin, belly, tail. Black stripes down forehead, ear tips, thighs, and tail.

distribution

A. m. melampus: northeast South Africa to southeast Angola and south Malawi; A. m. johnstoni: north Mozambique, Malawi, eastern Zambia; A. m. katangae: southeast Democratic Republic of the Congo; A. m. petersi: southwest Angola, extreme northwestern Namibia; A. m. rendilis: Kenya, Uganda; A. m. suara: Tanzania, Rwanda.

habitat

Light open woodland and savanna. Prefers ecotones between open grassland and woodland; requires cover and surface water.

behavior

During the dry season, may congregate in hundreds. In the rains, females and young form herds of 10–100 individuals, males form groups of up to 60 bachelors. About 30% of males hold a territory of 0.07–0.3 mi2 (0.2–0.9 km2). During the breeding season, males make hoarse grunts ("roaring").

Predator avoidance techniques include making jumps up to 8 ft (2.5 m) high in any direction, often over bushes or even other impala, and fleeing into dense vegetation.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds mostly on grass during and after the rains, but browses and eats some fruit and seeds during the dry season. Drinks at least once a day in the dry season.

reproductive biology

Polygynous. Births occur throughout the year in equatorial Africa, peaking in wet seasons elsewhere. Estrous cycle 12–29 days, lasting 24–48 hours. Gestation 194–200 days. Weaning at 4.5–7 months. Females conceive at two years. Lifespan 15 years.

conservation status

Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Introduced widely into areas outside their normal range in southern Africa, and reintroduced to privately-owned land and reserves. The race petersi (black-faced impala) is Vulnerable as a result of habitat loss and degradation.

significance to humans

Hunted mainly for meat.

Common name / Scientific name/Other common names Physical characteristics Habitat and behavior Distribution Diet Conservation status
Roan antelope Hippotragus equinus French: Antilope chevalinePelage is grayish brown with a hint of red. Legs are darker than rest of body, head is dark brown or black, white around mouth and nose, large white patches in front of eyes and pale patches behind them. Mane of short, stiff hair. Tail has a brush of black on the tip. Weight 495–660 lb (225–300 kg).Lightly wooded savanna with medium to tall grass and access to water. Mostly active during cooler parts of day. Groups can consist of up to 35 individuals.Senegal to western Ethiopia; south to northern South Africa, northern Botswana, and Namibia.Leaves and shoots.Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
Bluebuck Hippotragus leucophaeus German: BlauwbokLong, tall, parallel horns. Gray to bluish pelage. Sleek body with long, slender legs. Weight rarely over 355 lb (160 kg).Grassy plains with adequate water sources. Group sizes consisted of up to 20 individuals.Southern Cape Province, South Africa.Grazers, eating mostly grasses and leaves.Extinct
Scimitar-horned oryx Oryx dammah French: Oryx de Libye; Spanish: Orix de cimitarraCoat is white on neck and bright russet on chest. Light wash of russet over flanks and thighs. Facial mask of vertical russet stripes through eyes and wide reddish nose strip. Long, tufted, dark brown tail. Two sickle-shaped horns found on both sexes. Head and body length 63–69 in (160–175 cm), shoulder height 43–50 in (110–125 cm), weight 395–440 lb (180–200 kg).Grassy steppes, semi-deserts, and deserts in a narrow strip of central northern Africa. In Sahara during wet season. Generally solitary, herds gather in wet season. Mixed herds of up to 70 individuals.Formerly western Sahara and Tunisia to Egypt; Mauritania to Sudan; now survives only as a naturalized population in Chad.Grasses, fruits, and leaves.Extinct in the Wild
Gemsbok Oryx gazellaDramatic facial masks with halter-like facial markings paired with white patches, black striping along sides near underbelly. Short mane runs from head to shoulders, ears are large and broad. Body is buffy tan to brown. Long horns, ringed on lower half. Weight 395–440 lb (180–225 kg).Arid areas, including dry steppe, brush, and tree savannas in flat and hilly areas, as well as semi-desert and desert. No particular breeding season. Groups consists of 30–40 individuals.Northeastern Ethiopia and southeastern Sudan to Somalia, northeastern Uganda and northern Tanzania; southwestern Angola, Botswana, and western Zimbabwe to northern South Africa.Grasses and herbs, juicy roots, fruits, melons, leaves, buds, and bulbs.Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
Common name / Scientific name/Other common names Physical characteristics Habitat and behavior Distribution Diet Conservation status
Kob Kobus kob German: KobantilopenSmooth, shiny coat varying from golden brown to chestnut above, underparts are bright white. White facial markings: eye rings, inside of ears, and throat. Bushy tails, S-shaped horns on males. Shoulder height 27–41 in (70–105cm), tail length 7.8–15.8 in (20–40 cm), weight 110–265 lb (50–120 kg).Well-watered areas (like floodplains) across central Africa. Males are territorial. Groups consist of maternal and bachelor groups of one to 40 individuals.Senegal to western Ethiopia and Sudan; south to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), Uganda, western Kenya, and northwestern Tanzania. Now extinct in Tanzania.Mainly grasses.Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
Lechwe Kobus leche French: Cobe lechwe; German: Der Litschi; Spanish: Coco de lechweMedium-sized antelopes, chestnut in color, underparts are white. White throat and facial markings. Dark leg and body markings, which vary from black to red. Thin horns are 17.7–36.2 in (45–92 cm) in length, weight 135–282 lb (61–128 kg).Areas of the flood plains that border swamps because they are close to water and food. May take refuge in forested areas. Spend most of time in groups consisting of bachelors or mothers and calves. Males may be territorial.Northern Botswana, northeastern Namibia, southeastern Angola, southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia.Nutritious grasses that are found in flooded meadows.Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
Hunter's hartebeest Damaliscus hunteri English: HirolaCoat is light sandy brown, turning more gray in adult males. Two white lines form a chevron between the eyes, circles around eyes. Long, thick, white tail. White ears with black tips. Lyrate horns with heavy ridges. Head and body length 47–79 in (120–200 cm), shoulder height 39–49 in (100–125 cm), tail length 11.8–17.7 in (30–45 cm), weight 175–260 lb (80–118 kg).Arid, grassy plains bound by semi-desert inland and coastal forests on the south-eastern coast of Kenya. Groups consists of females and their young and range from five to 40 individuals. Fairly sedentary.Southern Somalia to northern Kenya.Mainly grasses.Critically Endangered
Topi Damaliscus lunatus French: Damalisque; German: LeierantilopeBody is short, glossy, tan in color with purple spots underneath. Markings are either white or dark in color. Long, narrow muzzles. Horns are S-shaped and ringed, range in length from 11.8 to 15.8 in (30–40 cm). Height 41–46 in (104–118 cm), weight 198–325 lb (90–147 kg).Prefers grassland habitats, including large treeless plains to areas with little bush and tree savannas. May sometimes be found in uplands, but usually found in the lowlands. Social organization varies regionally. Generally breed once a year.Formerly Mauritania and Senegal east to western Ethiopia and southern Somalia, and south to Tanzania; also Zambia to South Africa.Consists almost entirely of grasses.Lower Risk/Dependent Conservation Dependent
Hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus German: Somali-KuhantilopeVaries from pale brown to brownish gray. Large ungulate, steeply sloping back, long legs, tufted tail, and long, narrow rostrum. Head and body length 59–96 in (150–245 cm), weight 165–440 lb (75–200 kg).Savannas and grasslands of Africa, as well as scrublands. Social animals, herds may consists of up to 300 individuals. Males are territorial. Sedentary.Senegal to Ethiopia, south to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and northern Tanzania; southern Angola, western Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. Extinct in northern Africa, Somalia, and much of its former South African range.Consists almost entirely of grasses.Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
Blue wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus English: Blue and white-bearded wildebeest; German: StreifengnuAdults may vary from deep slate or bluish gray to light gray or brown-gray. Underparts are darker. Dark brawn, vertical bands on neck and forequarters. Slight hump above shoulders, slight slope toward rear. Long tail, black mane, flowing beard in both sexes. Head and body length 67–95 in (170–240 cm), shoulder height 45–57 in (115–145 cm), weight 308–640 lb (140–290 kg).Open and brush-covered savanna in south and east Africa. Groups consist of females and their young, ten to 1,000 individuals. Females give birth to one young per year. Males are territorial.Southern Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia south to Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and northeastern South Africa. Extinct in Malawi.Grasses.Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent

Resources

Books

Ansell, W. F. H. The Mammals of Zambia. Chilanga, Zambia: The National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1978.

Kingdon, J. East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, Volume III Parts C & D (Bovids). London: Academic Press, 1982.

Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopaedia of Mammals. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984.

Meester, J., and H. W. Setzer. The Mammals of Africa: An Identification Manual. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1977.

Nowak, Ronald M. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th ed. Vol. 2. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Skinner, R., and R. H. N. Smithers. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. 2nd ed. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, 1998.

Wilson, Don E., and D. M. Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1992.

Organizations

IUCN Species Survival Commission, Antelope Specialist Group, Dr. Richard D. Estes, Chair. 5 Granite Street, Peterborough, NH 03458 USA. Phone: (603) 924-9804. Fax: (603) 924-9804. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/sgs/sgs.htm>

Barry Taylor, PhD

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