Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Sable Antelope or Mbarapi

Hippotragus niger


The sable antelope has a thick neck with a vertical mane. Sexual dimorphism is not apparent until sable antelope are three years old, when males develop darker coats and curved horns that reach 81-165 cm in length. Female sable antelope also grow horns but they are not as curved and large as seen in the males (only about 61-102 cm). Male sable antelope tend to weigh 238 kg and have a shoulder height of 116-142 cm while females tend to weight 220 kg. Bulls (male sable antelope) are black while females and young appear as a chestnut color. Females of southern populations of this species have brown-black coats, similar to the males. Some individuals of this species have a white eyebrow/ rostrum that is sectioned into cheek stripes. There is also white fur on the belly and rump patch of this animal.


This species is found in southern savanna of Africa; from southeastern Kenya, eastern Tanzania, and Mozambique to Angola and the Miombo Woodland Zone of southern Zaire. Sable antelope prefer an intermediate habitat between savanna woodlands and grasslands. This species tends to avoid open areas.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Sable antelope are grazing herbivores, consuming only vegetation and preferring foliage and herbs growing on termite mounds. Sparse grasses are consumed during the rainy season and grassland areas that were once flooded and burned producing new vegetation are grazed during the dry season. Browsing sometimes occurs during the dry season. Much of the sable antelope diet consists of grasses at heights of 40-140 mm from the ground. Sable antelope drink at least every other day and they will even chew on bones to retrieve essential elements and minerals.


Dominant males defend territory of harems of females by horn wrestling with intruding males, which is engaged when males drop to their knees. Breeding season is during the dry season and lasts from May until July, with a mating peak in June. Females produce a single calf eight to nine months after mating, usually giving birth at the end of the rainy season, providing appropriate cover for young. Calves are hid in the tall grass for three weeks (being visited by the mother for nursing) until the calf joins the herd. Calves are weaned after 6 months, during the end of the dry season. Female sable antelope reach sexual maturity at 2.5 years old. Male sable antelope reach sexual maturity after 5 years.

Months and Times of Activity

This species is both nocturnal and diurnal. Feeding occurs before dark to reduce the risk of predation. During the dry season sub-populations congregate on green pastures.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Female sable antelope congregate in hierarchal groups which dominance is based on seniority. Young males are evicted from these female groups to live in bachelor herds.
•    To read legends featuring this animal go to;
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: My Antelope Likes Cantaloupe by Kimmie Fetters


Roenning, E. 2002. "Hippotragus niger" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at