Sable antelope (Hippotragus niger)
|French:||Hippotrague Géant De L'Angola, Hippotrague Noir Géant|
|Spanish:||Antílope Sable Negro|
|Size||Body length: 190 - 255 cm (2)|
Shoulder height: 117 - 143 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 - 75 cm (2)
|Weight||190 - 270 kg (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Four subspecies of sable antelope are currently recognised: Hippotragus niger kirkii (Zambian sable), H. n. niger (common or southern sable), H. n. roosevelti (eastern sable), and H. n. variani (giant or Angolan sable) (3). Of these, the giant sable antelope (H. n. variani) is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).
This stunning antelope rivals even the greater kudus as the most handsome of all antelope, with its powerful, robust build, vertical mane and fantastically long, curved horns, which arch majestically backwards (5) (6). Newborn calves are born with a camouflaging, sandy-brown coat, but as they grow and achieve herd status their coats continually darken (3). Mature females eventually become a rich chestnut-brown to dark brownish-black and fully mature males are a glossy brownish-black to pitch-black, varying with the subspecies (3) (5). Coat colour appears to be controlled hormonally, with castrated males losing their black colour to become brown again, and it is thought to help communicate age, and therefore social status, to others (3) (7). Both sexes have sharply contrasting white abdominal, rump, and facial patches, and black facial stripes running down the bridge of the nose and from the eyes to the nostrils (2) (3). The semi-circular, ridged horns are longer and thicker in males, growing up to an incredible 165 centimetres in length, while those of females reach a worthy 100 centimetres (2). These massive horns are very effective defensive weapons against natural predators and are used in dominance fighting (3).
Found in the southern savannah of Africa from southeastern Kenya, eastern Tanzania and Mozambique to Angola and southern Zaire, mainly in the Miombo Woodland Zone (5). The Critically Endangered giant sable antelope is confined to central Angola, where it is primarily located in the Luando Reserve and Cangandala National Park (3) (6).
Preferred habitat is a mixture of open savanna woodlands and grassland, consisting of fire-resistant, broadleaf deciduous trees scattered over an under-storey of sparse grasses that are grazed during the rainy season. During the dry season, feeding grounds are floodplain grasslands that produce new growth after the annual fires, although extensive open plains are generally avoided (5).
Sable antelope mate during the dry season from May to July when sub-populations congregate on remaining green pastures (5). Maternal herds of 15 to 25 breeding females and their young are led by a single alpha female (3). Young males are driven out of this herd at about three to four years of age and join bachelor herds of around two to twelve individuals. When around five or six years of age, males will establish and defend a territory at choice feeding grounds which attract females (3). The dominant male allows subordinate males to graze in his territory as long as they are submissive and show no interest in his females, but will fiercely fight any male that challenges his authority. Fights involve males circling one another, shaking their heads, dropping to their knees and engaging in ‘horn wrestling’ (3) (5). Fatalities are known, but rare (5). A bull also uses urine and faeces to scent-mark the perimeter of his territory to warn off all other rival bulls (3).
Peak mating activity occurs in June, and after a gestation of eight to nine months, females typically give birth to a single calf at the end of the rainy season, when food is abundant and the long grass provides sufficient cover (3) (5). After birth, the calf remains concealed for at least two weeks (3), joined by its mother for the first week, before she returns to the maternal group that the calf will eventually join (5). The calf is weaned and fully independent at six to eight months of age (3). Females start to breed at two and a half years of age and attain rank status in the herd hierarchy based on seniority, while males are evicted from the social group at three to four years old. These males then join bachelor herds of two to twelve individuals until they reach sexual maturity at five years (3) (5).
Most active in the early morning and late afternoon (2), sable antelope graze on a variety of short grasses abundant during the growing season and survive during the harsh dry seasonby browsing on herbs, bushes and trees (3). Water is visited at least every other day and no sable antelope will travel more then two miles from a watering hole or river (5). Adults are rarely attacked by predators such as lions because of their large horns and formidable fighting abilities, but the young, injured and old are vulnerable to predation by lions, leopards, hyenas, African hunting dogs and crocodiles (3) (5).
Sable antelope have been eliminated from large areas of their former range due to a combination of disease, drought-caused food shortages, and habitat loss and degradation, compounded by interspecific competition (3) (5). Subsistence hunting poses an additional threat (3), and its powerful stature and imposing horns have also made this species a prized trophy animal to many big-game hunters, some of which are willing to pay thousands of dollars to hunt them (5). As the African human population continues to grow, the rate of habitat loss due to pressure for agricultural land, and poaching for protein-rich meat are likely to grow (3). The giant sable antelope (H. n. variani) occupies a particularly precarious position in Angola (3), and was classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List even before the commencement of 20 years of civil war (6). With the onset of civil war, most of the protected areas in which the giant sable antelope was found were evacuated, and have been left unattended and unprotected for more than 25 years (6).
With three quarters of the wild population living on protected natural habitat in national parks, national game reserves, private game reserves, conservancy lands, and private farms, this species is currently considered stable (1). Sable antelope are held in a number of zoos throughout the world, and the North American Regional Studbook has recently been published, helping to keep captive populations genetically healthy by coordinating breeding between institutions (3). However, due to their aggressive nature and strong social inclusion and exclusion structures, sable antelope can pose difficulties to captive management (3).
The Critically Endangered giant sable antelope occurs in the Luando Reserve and Cangandala National Park (6), but its future nevertheless remains uncertain (3). Strict legislation and enforcement are required to protect this magnificent animal from poachers (6), but before this is likely to become a viable prospect or priority, it is essential for the Angolan government to reach stability and for the quality of life of the Angolan people to be improved (3) (6).
For more information on the sable antelope see:
AZA Antelope Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Website:
Authenticated (24/03/10) by Dr David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.
- Deciduous: a plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Interspecific: arising or occurring between different species.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- Territory: area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
The Ultimate Ungulate Page (September, 2006)
AZA Antelope Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Website (June, 2008)
CITES (September, 2006)
Animal Diversity Web (September, 2006)
Kissama Foundation (September, 2006)
South Africa Explored (September, 2006)