Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin


Alcelaphus buselaphus


Hartebeest is a large ungulate (hoofed animal) that can grow to be 1.5-1.45 meters long with a shoulder height of 1.1-1.5 meters. The unique characteristics of this animal include a steep, sloping back, long legs, and large glands below the eyes, a tufted tail and a long narrow face. There are pale patches of hair on the rump, chest, and parts of the face. Coat color may vary from pale brown to brown-gray between subspecies. Both sexes of this species have horns that rise from a single pedicel and grow to e 450-700 mm long. Horn shape may also vary between subspecies.


This species used to be found in grasslands throughout Africa from Morroco to northeastern Tanzania and south of the Congo. It even ranged from southern Angola to South Africa. Hartebeest are currently only found in parts of Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Hartebeests prefer to live in savannahs and grasslands, but they can survive in tall grasses, woodlands, or scrub areas.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Hartebeests are herbivores, consuming only vegetation. This species grazes on grass. At least 80% of their diet is grass and during the wet season, grass is 95% of their diet. This species is very tolerant of poor quality food.


Breeding varies seasonally with each subspecies or population. Male hartebeests breed within in their territories, which are defended against other males. A single calf is produced 214-242 days after mating. Young are hidden in scrub for the first few weeks of life while the mothers return to nurse when needed. Young are weaned after 4 months and sexual maturity occurs after about 12 months but adult size is not reached until they are 4 years old.

Months and Times of Activity

This species does not migrate but may change location during an extreme drought.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Swaynes’s hartebeest (A. buselaphus swaynei) and the Tora hartebeest (A. buselaphus tora) are endangered due to declining populations. Four other subspecies are listed as lower risk by the IUCN.
•    Hartebeests can reach speeds of 70-80 km per hour.
•    This species is a social animal, living in herds of up to 300-10,000 individuals. There are four social groups within a herd; territorial adult males, non-territorial adult male groups, groups of young males, and groups of females and young.
•    The range of this species has drastically been reduced due to over hunting by humans, habitat destruction, and foraging competition with domestic cattle.
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: The Antelope Who Loved Cantaloupe by Celeste Marie Halata


Batty, K. 2002. "Alcelaphus buselaphus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at