Nile lechwe (Kobus megaceros)

GenusKobus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 125 – 235 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 70 – 136 cm (2)
Tail length: 10 – 45 cm (2)
Weight50 – 300 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Both sexes of this rare, little-studied antelope (3) have a shaggy coat with a short beard, but otherwise, the male and female Nile lechwe differ greatly in appearance (4). The most obvious distinguishing features are the male’s ringed, ‘S'-shaped horns, which arch backwards (4). The adult male has a dark chocolate brown coat with a lighter shade of fur extending from the eyes to behind the base of the horns and down the nape of the neck to a large white patch between the shoulder blades (3) (4). The chin, upper lip, middle belly and inner surfaces of the hind legs are also white, and a broad, whitish band sits above the hooves (3). The female and young Nile lechwe have a greyish-yellow coat (4) with weakly defined white areas on the head, but lack any white patches on the neck or shoulders (3).    

The Nile lechwe is native to Ethiopia and Sudan in eastern Africa. The majority of the population is found in the Sudd swamps, vast swamps in southern Sudan created by the White Nile River. A smaller population is also found in the Machar marshes near the Ethiopian border. In Ethiopia, the Nile lechwe occurs in Gambella National Park in the south-west of the country (1)

This antelope is an inhabitant of seasonally flooded swamps and grasslands, where it predominantly stays in water that is between 10 and 40 centimetres deep (1).

Like many antelope, the Nile lechwe is most active in the early morning and the evening (2). In large, loose herds, it moves about feeding on succulent grasses and water plants. Wild rice is thought to be a preferred food at the start of the flood season, while a larger proportion of swamp grasses are consumed when the waters recede. Occasionally, such as during periods of drought, it may feed on young leaves from trees and bushes, rearing up to reach this green vegetation (4). When moving through shallow water, the Nile lechwe travels by a series of graceful leaps (2), while in deeper water it is a capable swimmer (4).

Although it is probable that breeding in the Nile lechwe takes place year round (4), birthing may peak in the rainy season (5). A single young is born after a gestation period of seven to eight months (4) (5). The newborn calf remains hidden amongst vegetation for two to three weeks before joining the rest of the herd (5). Male Nile lechwe reach sexual maturity at around four years of age, while females reach sexual maturity at around three years (5).

Like much of the wildlife of the Sudd, Machar, and Gambella wetlands, the Nile lechwe has been severely affected by civil war, which has resulted in the resettlement of human populations in these areas; consequently, hunting of the Nile lechwe for meat has increased, intensified by the proliferation of firearms (1). In addition, human expansion has meant that there has been an increase in cattle farming, resulting in competition for the Nile lechwe’s resources (6). As a result of these threats, the Nile lechwe population is estimated to have declined by more than 50 percent over recent years (1). In the Sudd wetlands and Zeraf Reserve the situation for wildlife is likely to worsen as a result of oil exploration and exploitation in the region (1).

In Sudan, the Nile lechwe occurs in three protected areas: Zeraf, Fannyikang and Shambe, and in Ethiopia the species occurs in Gambella National Park (1). However, the benefits of these nominally protected areas are limited, as the Nile lechwe shares these areas with huge herds of cattle (1). There are currently thought to be over 400 Nile lechwe held in captivity in zoos across the world (7), which can act as insurance should the worst happen to the wild population, and allows an opportunity to learn more about this threatened antelope.

To learn about wildlife conservation efforts in Sudan see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  4. Mungall, E.C. (2007) Exotic Animal Field Guide: Nonnative Hoofed Animals in the United States. A&M University Press, Texas.         
  5. Estes, R.D. (1991) The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. University of California Press, California.
  6. East, R. (1998) African Antelope Database 1998. IUCN Publications, Cambridge.
  7. International Species Holding System (April, 2010)