20 Fascinating Facts About Large and Small African Antelopes


Antelopes or African Antelopes for the sake of this article are hoofed animals with hollow horns found in many parts of the world, unfortunately, they rarely live to old age since they are the major prey animal to many large predators, anything from lions and leopards to hyenas and even crocodiles sometimes … and of course, gun-toting humans. They usually live on grasslands, brush lands and forests and can be found in most parts of Africa and Asia. Some of these antelopes include the gazelle, eland, impala, springbok, klipspringer, oryx, saiga, waterbuck, suni, hartebeests, topi, nyala, bongo, dik-dik, kob, duiker, gemsbok, just to name a few. For the purpose of this article, we will focus particularly on African Antelopes, Here are 20 snippets of information about African Antelopes.

African Antelopes
Antelopes — Stock Photo © Tom Prokop via depositphotos

1 – There are about 90 species of antelopes, genus Antilopinae, family Bovidae (cows!). The name ‘antelope’ is used to cover all Bovidae that are *not* sheep, cattle or goats, and usually covers all species of Alcelaphinae (wildebeest, hartebeest, etc), Antilopinae (gazelles, springboks etc), Hippotraginae (oryx, sable antelope, addax and roan antelope), Reduncinae (waterbucks, reedbucks) and Cephalophinae (duikers), plus some Bovinae (buffalo, bison, etc), the impala and the grey rhebok.

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2 – African Antelopes are only native to Africa, there are also antelopes that are originally from Eurasia – the American ‘pronghorn antelope’ is not actually a true antelope; it’s from a different family, Antilocapridae.  Many species of African antelopes have been imported to the US and other places around the world for exotic game hunting, but these extremely agile creatures actually escape part of the time – meaning that there are now ‘feral’ populations in many places, especially Texas (very similar to the African/Asian climate they came from!).

3 – Most of the 90 odd species originate from Africa – hence the name, African antelopes, but there are a few elsewhere. India has the chinkara, blackbuck and nilgai; Russia and southeast Asia have the four-horned antelope, the tibetan antelope and the saiga and on the Arabian peninsula are found the Arabian oryx and dorcas gazelle.

4 – The antelope’s name is thought to be made up from Greek words ‘anthos’, meaning ‘flower’, and ‘ops’, meaning ‘eye’ – possibly intended to mean ‘beautiful eye’, or referring to its long eyelashes.

5 – The smallest antelope is the royal antelope, which may be as little as 9.4 in (24 cm) tall at the shoulder and 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg) in weight – while the largest is the eland, which can be as much as 70 in (1.78 m) and up to 2,000 lbs (~950 kg).  A quick comparison between the two would be from something the size of, and a little taller than, a rabbit, up to an animal so tall that most people couldn’t see over its shoulder …

Characteristics of African Antelopes

6 – The main difference between deer and antelope (apart from being an entirely different species!) is that deer shed their antlers every year and grow them again in the spring, but antelope have just the one set of permanent horns that are never shed.  Both animals, of course, use their horns in fighting others of their species and defending against attack – and the largest antelope horns, on the Greater Kudu, can be more than 5 ft (1.52 m) long!

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7 – Most African antelopes have a short, dense coat of fur, in any shade of beige and brown through to black (some in stripes), and a paler underbelly. They live to about 8-10 years in the wild (if the predators allow) but can live for double that in captivity, where they don’t tend to get killed off for a predator’s dinner so often!

8 – African Antelopes are herbivores; they eat only vegetation such as leaves, grass and seeds, but different species live in different types of location, from open grasslands and marshes to woodlands and even forests. Some extreme locations also have antelopes adapted to live there, such as the saiga, which lives in extreme cold; the Arabian oryx, adapted for deserts; the semi-aquatic sitatunga and the klipspringer, that lives on mountainous rocky slopes.

9 – Most forest and woodland species of African antelopes live in one place their whole lives, but some of the grassland and plains species are migratory, following the rains and therefore their food supply. The most impressive migrations are undertaken by the East African gnus (wildebeest), along with zebras and some other antelopes that travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya – and back – a round trip of around 1,800 miles every year.

10 – The impala is considered to be the second fastest mammal on earth after the cheetah. It can run at 47-56 mph (75-90 km/h) and although the cheetah easily tops that at 70 mph (112 km/h), the cheetah is a sprinter and can only maintain its top speed for a very short time, while the antelope can keep up its top speed for quite a bit longer – so if the antelope can keep from getting caught in the first few moments of the chase, it has a good chance of getting away.

Red lechwe antelope
Red lechwe antelope — Stock Photo © Nico Smit via depositphotos

11 – The biggest antelope, the eland, is also the slowest (an entirely relative term, at around 42 mph/70 km/h) but boy, it can jump – it can clear an eight foot (2.4 m) fence from a standing start – and for an animal weighing the best part of two tons, that shows some strength! Some of the smaller antelopes can jump higher – around 9 ft (2.7 m), where the balance of size versus strength allows it (the impala, for instance).

12 – African Antelopes are bovids (family bovidae) – this means they are ruminants (cud-chewers) and even-toed ungulates (with hoofed feet).  When a ruminant ‘chews the cud’, it regurgitates a ball of food from its stomach to chew over again, then swallows it again as it continues through the digestive system.

13 – If you get to look an antelope in the eye, it can be a little disconcerting since they have horizontal pupils. Watching them run is likewise disconcerting since they ‘bound’ along in a peculiar bouncing gait!

14 – African Antelopes are not usually quiet when it comes to communication – they use quite a range of noises to communicate, from loud barks and ‘moos’ to whistles and trumpeting.

 Family life of African Antelopes

15 – The mating season for antelopes and other ruminants like them is called the rut, when the male bucks will fight for the right to lead the herd of females and, of course, to have sole mating rights with them.

16 – The female doe will give birth to usually one, occasionally two calves after a gestation of up to eight months. The calf is able to run within hours of birth and can keep up with the herd generally after just days.

17 – For its first few weeks, the calf remains hidden in undergrowth most of the time, keeping absolutely still for hours on end. The mother will call it to feed, when it will come out, and once finished it will return to its hiding place again. It won’t run, even from obvious danger (it’s safer staying where it is as long as the predator doesn’t know it’s there) unless it’s apparent it’s about to be discovered.

 African Antelopes and Us

18 – Nearly a third of antelope species are classified as endangered by the IUCN for the usual reasons (all caused by humans) – habitat loss, competition with domestic herds for grazing and hunters looking for a trophy.  As someone once said, no hunting is fair sport until the animals are also equipped with guns and can shoot back…

19 – Antelope’s horn is thought to have medicinal properties, and even magical powers, in many cultures. In Eastern practice for instance, ground Saiga’s horn is supposed to be an aphrodisiac (the main reason why it’s nearly extinct), and it is claimed they can confine spirits in the Congo.  Christians have even managed to make the two horns symbolic of the two Christian “symbolic weapons” – the old and new testaments.

20 – In the normal way of humans, we’ve tried to domesticate antelopes over the years, with less success than with some of its relatives. The males are too territorial and aggressive to live in too close proximity, with each other or us, and stopping them escaping when they can jump over almost any fence adds to the problems, especially since they perceive humans as predators and consistently panic and run on seeing them!  If kept in mixed herds, they tend to hybridize, too, which is less than ideal …

Probably best to just enjoy them in their natural habitat, then. At least as long as the trigger-happy hunters allow us to do so.