Roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus)

Also known as: horse antelope, roan
  
French: Antilope Chevaline, Antilope Rouane, Hippotrague
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusHippotragus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 190 - 240 cm (2)
Tail length: 37 - 48 cm (2)
Male weight: 242 - 300 kg (2)
Female weight: 223 - 280 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The roan antelope is one of the largest of all African bovids, exceeded in size only by the African buffalo and eland (3). It is somewhat horse-like in appearance with a number of striking features (4); a distinct, erect mane runs from between the ears to just beyond the shoulders; massive, heavily-ringed horns, measuring up to a metre, curve back away from the head; and the face bears a prominent black and white pattern (2) (4). The roan antelope is tall and powerful with a thick neck (2), and long, narrow ears tipped with a tassel of hair (4). The coarse coat varies in colour depending on the region; from grey, to more tawny, to reddish, and the hairs of the mane are dark at the tips (2).

Occurs in the savannas of Africa (4), from Senegal east to western Ethiopia, and south to South Africa, northern Botswana, and Namibia (5). The roan antelope has been eliminated from parts of its former range but remains relatively common in parts of West and Central Africa (1).

The roan antelope inhabits open or lightly wooded grassland, with medium to tall grass and access to water. It avoids areas of short grass (4), and prefers locations where there are few other herbivores and predators (2).

This large mammal moves around in herds of 5 to 35 animals consisting of females and their young, and a single male that defends the herd from other males (2). Roan antelope do not have fixed territories, so the dominant male excludes other males from a 500 metre radius around the herd (3). If the dominant male encounters another adult male a violent interaction may sometimes ensue; they strut proudly around in circles before running forward, dropping to their knees and clashing their enormous horns ferociously together (2).

Roan antelope graze on medium to tall grasses (3) (4), occasionally also feeding on shrubs, herbs and the pods of Acacia trees. They drink regularly, thus can only inhabit areas with easy access to water (2). Breeding can occur at any time throughout the year, but births are rarer in the dry season. Gestation lasts for around 280 days and the female gives birth to her calf in a secluded area.  While the mother returns to the herd within one week, the young remains in hiding until old enough to keep up with the herd (2), with the mother returning to the calf to suckle in the early morning and late afternoon (4). Females reach sexual maturity at about two years of age; males are not sexually mature until three years (2), when they are forcibly evicted from the herd by the dominant male (3).  For the next three years the young male will live in a bachelor herd with up to ten others, before winning the position as dominant male in a female herd. Roan antelope are known to live for up to 17 years (2).

During the last century, roan antelope have seen a substantial reduction in both numbers and range. In some areas, such as Mauritania, Niger, Uganda, and Kenya, it is close to extinction (2), while in other parts this species has been entirely eliminated, largely as the result of illegal hunting and the destruction of its habitat (6). Generally, it is outside of protected areas that the survival of the roan antelope is most threatened by hunting and habitat destruction (6). However, not all national parks are a guaranteed refuge for this species, as roan antelope numbers fell in Kruger National Park after a decline in rainfall made conditions less favourable for the tall grasses on which roan feed. An influx of zebra and wildebeest, benefiting from the shorter grass conditions, also led to an increase in lion numbers, and consequently resulted in increased predation on adult roan antelope (7).

Roan antelope occur within many national parks (6), including Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, a Natural World Heritage Site (8). It is the continued protection of these conservation areas on which this striking antelope’s survival relies (6).

For further information on the roan antelope and conservation in Africa see:

Authenticated (24/03/10) by Dr David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Limited, London.
  3. Mills, G. and Hes, L. (1997) The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  4. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  5. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. East, R., Mallon, D.P. and Kingswood, S.C. (1989) Antelopes: Global Survey and Regional Action Plans. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  7. Harrington, R., Owen-Smith, N., Viljoen, P.C., Biggs, H.C., Mason, D.R. and Funston, P. (1999) Establishing the causes of roan antelope decline in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Biological Conservation, 90(1): 69-78.
  8. UNEP-WCMC: Serengeti National Park (January 2008)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/medialibrary/2011/06/28/79d4f18b/Serengeti.pdf