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Sable antelope

Sable antelope
adult male Hippotragus niger niger, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Hippotraginae
Genus: Hippotragus
Species: H. niger
Binomial name
Hippotragus niger
Harris, 1838
Geographic range

The sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) is an antelope which inhabits wooded savannah in East Africa south of Kenya, and in Southern Africa.


  • Subspecies 1
  • Physical description 2
  • Ecology and behavior 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Hipotrachus niger has four subspecies:

  • Hipotrachus niger niger or Black Sable (also known as the Matsetsi sable and Zambian) is regarded as the ‘typical' sable as it was the first to be described and named in 1838. Often referred to as the black sable because it tends to have the darkest coat, this subspecies occurs south of the Zambezi River, particularly in northern Botswana and large numbers in the Matsetsi valley of Zimbabwe but is also found in Southern Africa. In South Africa most of the commercial sable farmers crossed their Matsetsi sables (Indeginous to South Africa) with western Zambian sables in the hope to move nearer to the nearly extinct giant sable (that was larger with bigger horns.) Currently the believe is that there are only about 15% pure Matsesti sables in South Africa. The Matsetsi sable population in Zimbabwe is only 450. (was 24,000 in 1994).The sable population in South Africa is about 7000 (Commercial and in reserves). Therefore, it can be concluded that the Matsesti sable population is less than 1500 and declining daily. Fortunately most of the sables in the reserves are pure Matsetsi sables. Anglo- American recently started a program of breeding pure Matsetsi sables commercially and keeping them pure.[2][3]
  • Hipotrachus niger variani the Giant sable antelope or royal sable is so named because the horns of both sexes are recognisably longer. Found only in a few remaining localities in central Angola. It is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, and is listed on Appendix I of CITES.
  • Hipotrachus niger kirkii the common sable or southern sable or West Zambie sable of central Angola, western Zambia and Malawi has the largest geographical range, which extends north of the Zambezi River through Zambia, south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi into south-western Tanzania. It is classified as vulnerable [4][5]
  • Hipotrachus niger roosevelti the eastern sable or Shimba sable is the smallest of the races. It occurs in the coastal hinterlands of southern Kenya, particularly in the Shimba Hills National Park, and ranges through the region east of Tanzania's eastern escarpment and into northern Mozambique.[5][6]

Physical description

The sable antelope is sexually dimorphic, with the male heavier and about one-fifth taller than the female.[7] The head-and-body length is typically between 190–255 cm (75–100 in).[8] Males reach about 117–140 cm (46–55 in) at the shoulder, while females are slightly shorter. Males typically weigh 235 kg (518 lb) and females 220 kg (490 lb).[9] The tail is 40–75 cm (16–30 in) long, with a tuft at the end.[7][8]

The sable antelope has a compact and robust build, characterised by a thick neck and tough skin.[7] It has a well-developed and often upright mane on its neck as well as a short mane on the throat.[9] Their general colouration is rich chestnut to black. Females and juveniles are chestnut to dark brown, while males begin darkening and turn black after three years. However, in southern populations, females have a brown to black coat. Calves below two months are a light tan and show faint markings.[9] The underparts, cheek, and chin are all white, creating a great contrast with the dark back and flanks.[7] Long, white hairs are present below the eyes, and a wide, black stripe runs over the nose.[8]

Both sexes have ringed horns which arch backward. In females, these can reach 61–102 cm (24–40 in), while in males they are 81–165 cm (32–65 in) long.[9] The average lifespan of the sable antelope is 16 years in wild and 19 years in captivity.[10]

Ecology and behavior

Sable antelope live in savanna woodlands and grasslands during the dry season, where they eat mid-length grasses and leaves. Sable antelope visit salt licks and have been known to chew bones to collect minerals. They are diurnal, but are less active during the heat of the day. They form herds of 10 to 30 females and calves led by a single male, called a bull. Males fight among themselves; they drop to their knees and use their horns.

In each herd, the juvenile males are exiled from the herd at about three years old. All of the female calves remain, however. When the herd gets too large, it divides into smaller groups of cows and their young. These groups form new herds, once again with only one adult bull. The young males, which have been separated from the herd, associate in "bachelor groups" of up to 12 individuals. Among the bachelors, the most dominant is the first individual to join a new group of females when the position is open. Very seldom, during their fights for dominance, are they able to inflict bodily harm to the contender.

When sable antelopes are threatened by predators, including lions, they confront it, using their scimitar-shaped horns. Many of these big cats have died during such fights. Numbers have been reduced severely as part of regional tse-tse fly control programs.

The grassland habitat of the sable is being reduced by habitat destruction for agricultural development. Antelope are important to their habitats as grazers and browsers. They are also important as prey for carnivores.


  1. ^ IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Hippotragus niger. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved November 2008.Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of Least concern.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d Nowak, R. M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World (6th ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 1174–5.  
  8. ^ a b c Huffman, B. "Sable antelope". Ultimate Ungulate. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d R. D., Estes (1999). The Safari Companion : A Guide to Watching African Mammals, Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, and Primates (Rev. ed.). White River Junction: Chelsea Green Pub. Co. pp. 98–100.  
  10. ^ (mbarapi or sable antelope)"Hippotragus niger". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 

External links

  • Information by ITIS
  • Information by African Wildlife Foundation
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