Sable antelope
Sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) adult male.jpg
Adult male Hippotragus niger niger, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa
Sable (Hippotragus niger) female crossing the road (16635641913), crop.jpg
H. n. niger cow in the southern Kruger National Park, South Africa
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Hippotraginae
Genus: Hippotragus
H. niger
Binomial name
Hippotragus niger
(Harris, 1838)
Hippotragus niger distribution.svg
      geographic range

The sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) is an antelope which inhabits wooded savanna in East and Southern Africa, from the south of Kenya to South Africa, with a separate population in Angola.[2]


The sable antelope shares the genus Hippotragus with the extinct bluebuck (H. leucophaeus) and the roan antelope (H. equinus), and is a member of the family Bovidae.[3]

In 1996, an analysis of mitochondrial DNA extracted from a mounted specimen of the bluebuck showed that it is outside the clade containing the roan and sable antelopes. The cladogram below shows the position of the sable antelope among its relatives, following the 1996 analysis:[4]

blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi)

bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygarus)

bluebuck (Hippotragus leucophaeus)†extinct

roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus)

sable antelope (Hippotragus niger)


Hipotragus niger has four subspecies:

In English "great sable antelope", "sable" or the Swahili name mbarapi are sometimes used. An archaic term used in accounts of hunting expeditions in South Africa is "potaquaine";[11] the origin and exact application are unclear. Local names include swartwitpens (Afrikaans), kgama or phalafala (Sotho), mBarapi or palahala (Swahili), kukurugu, kwalat or kwalata (Tswana), ngwarati (Shona), iliza (Xhosa), impalampala (Zulu) and umtshwayeli (Ndebele).[12]


The sable antelope is sexually dimorphic, with the male heavier and about one-fifth taller than the female.[13] The head-and-body length is typically between 190 and 255 cm (75 and 100 in).[14] 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).[15] The tail is 40–75 cm (16–30 in) long, with a tuft at the end.[13][14]

The sable antelope has a compact and robust build, characterized by a thick neck and tough skin.[13] It has a well-developed and often upright mane on its neck, as well as a short mane on the throat.[15] Its 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 less than two months old are a light tan and show faint markings.[15] The underparts, cheek, and chin are all white, creating a great contrast with the dark back and flanks.[13] Long, white hairs are present below the eyes, and a wide, black stripe runs over the nose.[14]

Both sexes have ringed horns which arch backwards. In females, these can reach 61–102 cm (24–40 in), while in males they are 81–165 cm (32–65 in) long.[15] The average lifespan of the sable antelope is 19 years in the wild and 22 years in captivity.[16]


Sable antelope live in savanna woodlands and grasslands during the dry season,[17] where they eat mid-length grasses and leaves. They 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.[18]

In each herd, the juvenile males are exiled from the herd around 3 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. Seldom, during their fights for dominance, they are able to inflict bodily harm to any contenders.[18]

When sable antelope are threatened by predators, including lions, they confront them, using their scimitar-shaped horns. Many of these big cats have died during such fights. In the 1950 to 1970's the antelope's numbers were reduced severely by tsetse fly pest outbreaks.[citation needed]

The grassland habitat of the sable antelope is being reduced by habitat destruction for agricultural development. Sable antelope are important to their habitats as grazers and browsers. They are also important as prey for carnivores. [18]


The giant sable antelope's breeding season is seasonal and births coincide with the rainy season. After a gestation period of around 9 months, the female gives birth to a single young. A newborn calf is born with a sandy coloured coat, which helps it to camouflage. The calf will lie hidden away for at least 10 days while being nursed by its mother.

Young sable antelope are weaned at around 8 months and will become sexually mature at between 2 and 3 years. As the calf develops, its coat will darken and it will achieve its status within the herd. The life span of a giant sable antelope is around 17 years.[19]


Giant sable antelope are herbivores and are specialized browsing animals that feed upon foliage, mid-length grasses, leaves and herbs, particularly those that grow on termite mounds. Tree leaves make up 90% of their diet. They are diurnal animals, meaning they are most active in the daylight, but less active during the hottest part of the day. Sable antelope have a ruminant digestive system.[19]


  1. ^ IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2017). "Hippotragus niger". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T10170A50188654. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T10170A50188654.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Sable". African Wildlife Foundation.
  3. ^ Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 718. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  4. ^ Robinson, T. J.; Bastos, A. D.; Halanych, K. M.; Herzig, B. (1996). "Mitochondrial DNA sequence relationships of the extinct blue antelope Hippotragus leucophaeus". Die Naturwissenschaften. 83 (4): 178–82. doi:10.1007/s001140050269. PMID 8643125.
  5. ^ Crosmary, William-Georges; Chamaillé-Jammes, Simon; Mtare, Godfrey; Fritz, Hervé; Côté, Steeve D. (2015-01-07). "Decline of sable antelope in one of its key conservation areas: the greater Hwange ecosystem, Zimbabwe". African Journal of Ecology. 53 (2): 194–205. doi:10.1111/aje.12207. ISSN 0141-6707.
  6. ^ "Hipotrachus Niger | Exotic Game Farming Orange Free State". Archived from the original on 2013-09-06.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-03. Retrieved 2014-11-03.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Sable shenanigans: how Zambia's sable population is falling prey to unscrupulous traders". The Ecologist. Retrieved 2017-07-13.
  9. ^ a b "Wildlife as a commodity - Incarcerated by red tape". Archived from the original on November 5, 2014.
  10. ^ Jonathan Kingdon; David Happold; Thomas Butynski; Michael Hoffmann; Meredith Happold; Jan Kalina (23 May 2013). Mammals of Africa. A&C Black. p. 557. ISBN 978-1-4081-8996-2.
  11. ^ Five Years of a Hunter's Life in the Far Interior Of South Africa. Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming (1820–1866); London, John Murray, 1855
  12. ^ "Hippotragus niger—Names". Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  13. ^ 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. ISBN 0801857899.
  14. ^ a b c Huffman, B. "Sable antelope". Ultimate Ungulate. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  15. ^ 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. ISBN 1890132446.
  16. ^ "Hippotragus niger (mbarapi or sable antelope)". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  17. ^ Richard Estes (1992). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-08085-0. sable.
  18. ^ a b c Roenning, Eric. "Hippotragus niger (mbarapi)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  19. ^ a b "Sable Antelope, "Nairobi" -". Retrieved 2021-01-21.