Antelope of the Lebombo Concession (Part 1 – medium to large antelope)

Kruger National Park | November 2016

Many guests come to Africa hoping to see the “Big 5” and only realize the beauty of the diversity of life when they get here. The Kruger National Park is known for its exceptional biodiversity. According to the official SANPARKS website there are 53 species of fish, 505 species of birds, 35 species of amphibians, 118 species of reptiles, 1 990 taxa of plants and 148 species of mammals that have been recorded in the Park. There are at least 22 species of antelope alone!

We are very fortunate to regularly see quite a few species of antelope in the Lebombo Concession. These include:

  • Impala (Aepyceros melampus)
  • Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
  • Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)
  • Blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
  • Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris)
  • Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus)
  • Sharpe’s grysbok (Raphicerus sharpei)
  • Common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia)
  • Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii)
  • Bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus)

On rare occasions we may even see:

  • Sable antelope (Hippotragus niger)
  • Eland (Taurotragus oryx)
  • Common reedbuck (Redunca arundinum)
  • Mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula)

We also see Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) fairly regularly in the concession. Although buffalos are not considered to be antelope they do fall within the same family (Bovidae, which includes antelope, cattle, goats and sheep).

Antelope are generally herbivorous animals that are considered to be even-toed ungulates (ungulates are animals with hooves). They fall under the order Cetartiodactyla (previously Artiodactyla) and the sub-order Ruminantia. They are, therefore, ruminants and have four-chambered stomachs and “chew the cud”.
Antelope differ from deer (which fall into the family Cervidae), in that antelope have horns that are permanent and unbranched, (and not forked), whereas deer have branched antlers, which are shed annually. Antelope horns are part of the skull and consist of bone with a keratin outer sheath. Antelope do not shed their horns. Antlers (which occur on male deer), in comparison, start as two velvet covered spikes with spongy bone inside. As the bone grows, calcifies, and hardens the velvet starts to drop off and only the bony part remains. Antlers are generally shed at the end of the breeding season.

Antelope can be placed into various sub-families, or tribes, based on physical / anatomical similarities, similar behaviours and similar habitats.

Impala are the most common and most successful antelope seen in the concession. They fall under the sub-family Aepycerotinae and the tribe Aepycerotini. These are often referred to as the “perfect antelope”, and have supposedly remained relatively unchanged (in evolutionary terms) over at least the last five million years.

The scientific name Aepyceros melampus is derived from the Greek words aipos (meaning “high”) and ceros (“horn”). The species name melampus is derived from the Greek words melas (“black”) and pous (“foot”).
The impala is a medium-sized antelope and weighs in the region of 40–76 kilograms. Only the males carry the lyre-shaped horns.

Impalas prefer savanna woodland habitats (particularly along ecotones – where two or more habitats meet and integrate). They are considered to be diurnal animals (active during the day). Male impalas only hold territories during the rutting season (April / May). These territories are marked with urine and faeces and defended against juvenile or male intruders. The gestation period is six-and-a-half months and the young fawns are all born within a few weeks during summer. After being hidden away for a day or two after birth the fawns congregate in crèches.

Impalas are well-known for their great jumping ability and can even cover three meters in a single running leap. Impalas are considered to be mixed feeders and can consume both grass and woody vegetation.
They form an important prey species for several carnivores, such as cheetahs, leopards and Cape hunting dogs. Lions may also, on occasion, feed on impalas (although they prefer larger herbivores such as zebras and buffalos).

The Tragelaphini tribe of antelopes includes (amongst others) the greater kudu, the nyala and the bushbuck. Antelope in this tribe are characterised by the males having spiral-shaped horns. They often have white markings on the body and face. Kudus and nyalas both have vertical stripes on their flanks that function as disruptive patterning, allowing them to hide better in the bushy vegetation. Bushbuck tend to have spots on their rumps and flanks that serve the same purpose.

Eland are often placed within this tribe of antelope, although both sexes have horns and some authorities place them in the same tribe as cattle. We very seldom see eland in the concession.

The word “Tragelaphus” is derived from the Greek words tragos (meaning “billy goat”) and elaphos, meaning “stag”). These antelopes are therefore also known as “goat-stags” and were named after a legendary creature which was supposedly half-goat and half-stag.

The tragelaphids are usually browsers (except eland) and feed on leaves and branches of trees and bushes. They tend to prefer habitats with denser vegetation such as riverine woodland and thickets. Kudus may also be regularly seen in savanna-woodland habitats.

Greater kudus are large antelope and may attain a mass of up to 250 kg. Both Nyala and Bushbuck are considered to be medium-sized antelope. Nyala can attain a mass of up to 108 kg. Bushbuck are slightly smaller and can attain a mass of 45 kg.

The tribe Reduncini is a group of medium- to large-sized grazers (feed on grasses), most of which have strong ties to water (except the Mountain reedbuck that prefers rocky environments). Many of the antelope in this tribe have diffuse sebaceous glands in their skin that make their coats slightly greasy and give off a fairly strong scent (especially waterbuck), reminiscent of turpentine. It is thought that because many of the antelope live in or around wet areas that the secretions from these glands may provide some type of water-proofing for the animal. This strange scent has led to a belief that predators do not like to consume these antelopes. This, however, is not true and lions readily feed upon waterbuck.

The name of the tribe (and of the genus of the reedbuck) comes from the Latin word reduncus (meaning to be bent or curved like a hook), and refers to the horns which are found only on the males and which initially point backwards from the skull and then curve forwards towards the tip.

Antelope that fall into this tribe, that may be seen in the concession, include waterbuck, common reedbuck and mountain reedbuck. The waterbuck is commonly seen in our area, but the two reedbuck species are much rarer here.

Waterbuck are fairly large (up to 260 kg), grey, shaggy antelope that are characterized by having a white ring around on the rump, circling the tail. They tend to be found in woodland savanna areas that are close to water. The species name ellipsiprymnus is derived from the Greek words ellipes (meaning a regularly shaped oval) and prymnos (meaning hind part)

Common reedbuck is a medium-sized antelope (up to 68 kg) with golden-grey fur and with an obvious glandular bald patch below the ear (known as a sub-auricular gland). The males have short forward curving horns that may be up to 47 cm in length. Common reedbuck tend to live in marshy grasslands and the colour of their fur blends in very well with the surroundings. When alarmed they give off a high-pitched whistling sound. The species name arundinum comes from the Latin word meaning reed, with reference to the habitat in which they live. As we do not have many areas in the concession with the habitat that common reedbuck require we very seldom see them here.

Mountain reedbuck is a medium-sized antelope (up to 30 kg) with fairly short forward-curving horns. The genus name “fulvorufula” comes from the Latin words fulvus (meaning tawny in colour) and rufula (meaning rufous in colour). Mountain reedbuck, in this area tend to have more a grey-coloured fur, tinted with rufous. Mountain reedbuck tend to live in hilly areas and are grazers. These antelope, like their relative the common reedbuck, also have a prominent bald, sub-auricular gland. These antelopes are very seldom seen in the concession.

The blue wildebeest falls in the Alcelaphini tribe of antelopes. These animals look similar to buffalo, but are smaller, thinner, and their horns are slightly different in shape. The back of the wildebeest tends to slope slightly downwards from the forequarters to the hindquarters, whereas that of the buffalo tends to be more level.

The blue wildebeest is also known as the brindled gnu. The name blue wildebeest refers to the blueish sheen on the skin, whereas the second word “wildebeest” is derived from the afrikaans term meaning wild beast. The scientific name Connochaetes taurinus comes from the Greek words kónnos, (meaning “beard”), khaítē, (meaning “flowing hair” or “mane”). The species name taurinus originates from the Greek word tauros (which refers to a bull). The alternative name “Gnu” is an onomatopoeic word describing the sound that these animals make.

Wildebeest are well known due to the great migration that they undertake in East Africa. The wildebeest that undertakes this migration is a different subspecies to the blue wildebeest that we find in our area. It appears that before the borders of the Kruger Park were established there was a smaller migration of wildebeest that move east-west in the Lowveld area. This migration however was halted as a result of the western boundary fence being raised. The wildebeest in Kruger Park no longer migrate. The males establish territories and the small herds of females are nomadic following the grazing (they feed on grass). The males mark their territories by rubbing their pre-orbital glands (glands in front of the eyes) on nearby trees, horning vegetation and the ground, defecating at specific sites, rolling in the sand and standing upright (advertising their status as the dominant bull in the area).

Blue wildebeest are large antelope that can attain a mass of up to 250 kg. Both sexes have horns.
Blue wildebeest enjoy open grassland habitats, but may also be found in woodland savanna areas. The basalt grasslands in the Satara and Lebombo areas are particularly suitable for this species and they are therefore fairly common in the central areas of the Kruger Park, and are often seen in the company of plains zebras.

Females usually give birth in early summer (after a gestation period of 8-9 months) and the calves are a golden colour when young. The calves are susceptible to predation particularly by lion and cheetah.

Sable antelope are very rarely seen in the concession. In previous years a small herd of sable antelope were seen on occasion in the northern parts of the concession. Sable antelope fall within the tribe of antelope known as the Hippotragini tribe. The common name for this tribe is the “horse antelopes”. These antelopes are large in size (they can attain a weight of up to 260 kg) and are possibly the most majestic antelope in Africa. The males are pitch black in colour (hence their name “sable”), with white bellies and alternating black and white stripes or patches on the face. They have very impressive recurved horns that stretch over the back. They also have fairly long, bushy tails reminiscent of that of a horse. The females are not as dark as the males and are more chocolate-brown in colouration. Both males and females have horns, although those of the males tend to be more sturdy and longer. The species name “niger” is derived from the Latin word meaning black. Sable antelope form small herds and tend to inhabit savanna grassland areas. They are grazers.

Images: Cape Buffalo, Impala ewe and lamb, Impala ram, Greater kudu bull, Greater kudu cow, Bushbuck ram, Bushbuck ewe, Nyala bull, Young male nyala, Waterbuck bull, Waterbuck cow, Southern / common reedbuck male, Mountain reedbuck ewe, Blue wildebeest, and Sable antelope bull.