With 78 species of African antelopes, the continent is home to more far species of antelope than all of the other continents combined.
Antelopes in Africa live almost exclusively in savanna habitats, with a number of notable exceptions, and are found right the way across the continent from Morocco in Northern African to the coastal plains of South Africa.
What exactly is an antelope?
Before we explore African antelopes in more detail, it’s worth understanding exactly what we mean by the term ‘antelope’, and how they compare to deer and gazelle. These three terms cannot be used interchangeably, as they refer to different groups of animals.
Antelope vs deer
Although superficially similar in appearance, deer belong to a completely different family to antelope. Antelope belongs to the Bovidae family while deer belong to the Cervidae family.
The principal physical difference between the two groups is that male deer have antlers which they shed and grow again each year while antelopes have permanent horns.
Antelope vs gazelle
Gazelles are actually a subgroup of the antelope family known as the Bovidae genus. This means that all gazelles are antelopes, but not all antelopes are gazelles.
The main differences between gazelles and non-Bovidae antelopes lies in their size and horns:
- Gazelles are usually much smaller than other antelopes in height and weight.
- Both male and female gazelle species usually have horns, whereas with non-gazelle antelopes only the males have horns.
With this context in mind here’s our pick of ten of Africa’s most iconic species, found right the way across the continent:
10 of Africa’s most iconic antelope species
Given its unpredictable temper, the Cape or African buffalo is particularly difficult to tame and has never been domesticated like its relative, the Asian water buffalo. Moreover, these animals are considered extremely dangerous and as such make highly sought-after hunting trophies, which earned its spot on Africa’s Big Five.
Perhaps the most unmistakable feature of the buffalo is its majestic set of horns. Called a “boss”, the bases of a male buffalo’s horns come together to form a shield. At five or six, the horns might be fully formed, however, it is only after a couple more years that the boss becomes completely hard and perfect for sparring.
The dik-dik is considerably smaller in size than other African antelope species, measuring up to 0.7 meters tall and weighing up to 6 kg. Dik-diks are native to eastern and southern Africa where they live in shrublands, savannas, and dense forests. These antelopes are named after the females’ alarm calls, and make a whistling sound through their long and tubular snouts to alert others to the presence of predators.
The eland is one of the African savanna’s most enduring animal inhabitants. The largest of the antelope family, the animal is remarkable for its striking coat and impressive, ox-like build. There are two types of eland – the giant eland found in Central and West Africa and the common eland, which inhabits lands stretching from East to Southern Africa.
Perhaps the ultimate icon of the African savanna, the giraffe is an unmistakable land mammal known for its long neck and spotted coat. With age, male giraffes may become darker, and while calves inherit spot patterns from their mothers, each giraffe has a unique coat pattern that sets it apart.
Considering its long neck, it’s no wonder the giraffe has an unusually long tongue – about 45 cm to be exact, used to deftly pick leaves from between thorns.
One animal that is likely to be present on most safari game drives is the impala, a medium-sized antelope that lives across Eastern and Southern Africa. This unassuming-looking antelope is often an entertaining spot on safari due to its nonchalant looks and elegant yet epic high jumps. The impala prefers habitats that don’t have long grasses that could potentially hide predators like lions, but at the same time, they like to inhabit areas with enough shade and a good water source.
Kudu are a species of antelopes majestic in their looks, with their twisted horns making them quite distinct from other antelopes. Horns are the main trademark of the kudu. While female kudus have short horns, male kudus have horns of up to 1.8 meters, the longest of any antelope, which take an average of six years to reach their full length.
The name found its way into the English language courtesy of the Afrikaans of South Africa. The Afrikaans term ‘koedoe’ is a combination of both zebra and deer.
Despite having zebra-like markings the rare and unusual looking okapi is actually a member of the giraffe family. Their striking striped hindquarters camouflaged them and help them disappear into the forest. Living in the dense tropical rainforests of Central Africa they use their long, sticky, giraffe-like tongues to graze on leaves, ferns, grasses, and fruit.
All four oryx species live in or on the fringes of desert areas in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They imbibe their water from the plants they eat and can survive without water for months at a time due to a special kidney adaptation.
Roan antelopes are one of the largest antelope species. Roan antelopes or the Hippotragus equinus have a horse-like appearance. The Latin epithet “equinus” means “horse-like”. Like most African antelopes roan live in groups – specific harem groups that vary from 5-15 animals and are led by a dominant male.
The steenbok is widely adored all over the world because it’s a small, cute antelope that you can find in Botswana and many regions of South Africa. It’s also known as the ‘dwarf antelope’ due to its small size. On top of that steenbok are very fast for their size, which makes it an antelope that’s very hard to catch kill for many predators.
What did you think of these iconic African antelopes? Are there any other antelope species you’d have liked to have seen on the list, or have you had the opportunity to see any of these elegant creatures in the wild? Let us know in the comments section below!
List of all African antelopes
According to IUCN there are 78 species of African antelopes. Here is a full list, split by the full taxonomy of each species and listed in alphabetical order:
Blue & White-bearded Wildebeest
Bontebok & Blesbok
Tsessebe, Topi, Tiang and Korrigum
Beisa and Fringe-eared Oryx
Bates’ Pigmy Antelope
Harvey’s Red Duiker
Natal Red Duiker