Topi (Damaliscus lunatus)

Also known as: coastal topi, korrigum, tiang, tsessebe
French: Damalisque, Hirola, Korrigum, Sassaby, Topi
GenusDamaliscus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 150 – 205 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 100 – 130 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 – 60 cm (2)
Weight75 – 160 kg (2)

The topi is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). There are six subspecies: Damaliscus lunatus jimela (topi), Damaliscus lunatus lunatus (tsessebe), Damaliscus lunatus tiang (tiang) and Damaliscus lunatus superstes (Bangweulu tsessebe) are all classified as Least Concern (LC), Damaliscus lunatus topi (coastal topi) is classified as Near Threatened (NT) and Damaliscus lunatus korrigum (korrigum) is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of the most common ungulates over many African grasslands until the early 1900s, the topi has now gone extinct in much of its former range and remaining populations continue to decline. It is the rise of cattle-based human societies in its habitat which has resulted in the retreat of many extant topi populations (3). Known for its distinctive sentry position on termite mounds as it surveys its range, the topi has a short, glossy, brown coat with a bold pattern of black patches, and fawn coloured underparts and legs (4). Most of the subspecies also have a purple sheen, black face masks, and black patches on the upperlimbs. Both sexes have strong, deeply ringed, S-shaped horns (5).

The topi have a fragmented distribution several distinct populations across the northern savanna to eastern and southern Africa. The subspecies are separated by region (1) (4).

Topi inhabit moist, green grassland of open savanna, sometimes lightly wooded, and swampy floodplains (5) (6)

The topi employs two different breeding systems, depending on the density of the population. At low densities, a dominant bull defends a territory that supports two to ten females and their immature offspring (5). The territory is marked using various secretions, including one from glands beneath the eyes (2). However, at high population densities, it is thought to be uneconomical for a male to defend large territories, because of the effort required to exclude others from the area. In these situations, breeding leks are formed instead (7); the topi is one of only four antelopes known to do so (pers). In areas where females regularly congregate, males cluster on traditional breeding grounds (5), competing for mates by posturing and sparring with the horns (2). Most females visit this lek on their day of oestrus and mate with the largest, fittest males (5).

Recently, research has shown that in individual females in a high density population mate with an average of four partners, mating with each male approximately 11 times. The fertile period of females lasts only a single day, and during this time females may be pushy and aggressive as they attempt to mate with numerous males to ensure that they become pregnant. Males become exhausted during peaks in mating activity and appear to mate selectively due to sperm depletion (8). Female topi give birth to a single calf after a pregnancy lasting 7.5 to 8 months (5).

Topi can reach top speeds of over 70 km/h, but are so curious that they have been known to stand and stare while members of their herd are shot. Natural predators include lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and cape hunting dogs (2). Topi graze on most grass species (4), selecting the lush green leaves from amongst dry grass (5).

Evidence is increasing that where cattle are present, topi decline, through competition for food (4) (9). However, the humans that accompany domestic cattle also cause habitat destruction and hunt the topi its meat (1).

No direct conservation action has been targeted at this declining species.

For further information on the topi see:

Authenticated (04/01/08) by Dr Jakob Bro-Jørgensen, Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology, London.

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)