Safari: Part V – In praise of the Antelope

When people go on Safari, they often focus their attention on ‘The Big Five‘ or on the large predators. Don’t get me wrong, seeing Lion, Elephant, and Leopard in the wild is an incredible experience, but I was equally thrilled to see the wonderful diversity and beauty of the Antelope.

All creatures great and small

East Africa provides splendid example of the diversity of antelope, from the mighty Common Eland (the second largest antelope in the world after it’s rarer Northern cousin, the Giant Eland) which can be nearly 3.5m in length and weigh almost a 1000kgs…

…to Kirk’s dik dik, the smallest antelope in East Africa at around 70cm in length (and only 30cm in height) and a fully grown male (I can’t bring myself to call this creature a bull) weighing up to 7kgs (nearly 143 times smaller than the Eland!)…

The great herds

Antelope are social animals. The greatest herds are formed of the powerful Blue Wildebeest, seen below (with a Common Zebra to the left) near the banks of the Mara River where hundreds will die crossing…

Wildebeest are the most populous mammal of East Africa and well over a million of them embark on the perpetual cycle of migration which will see huge herds following the rains and moving around 1800km every year.

A study in Impala

The Impala is another common antelope of Africa. I saw the male below in the Maasai Mara…

Dominant males like the one above, will collect and herd as many females as possible. They are ever ready to prevent any of the harem leaving and also to defend their dominance through fighting with any challenger males. The single male, below, can be seen with the large horns standing on a raised mound to the right surrounded by the females over whom he exerts sole mating rights…

Males that have not yet earned, or that have lost, dominant status will congregate together in bachelor herds for safety…

Even young males will fight to determine hierarchical status…

Impala is a Zulu word meaning ‘gazelle’, but they are also sometimes cheekily called the McDonald’s Antelope. They are a ubiquitous food source for many predators and could certainly be described as fast food as they can run over 80kph if threatened. But this name is also because of the black ‘M’ on their hind quarters…

Gazelle

Closely related to the Impala are the true Gazelles. We saw two species on Safari: Grant’s Gazelle and the smaller but more strikingly marked, Thompson’s Gazelle. One of each helpfully stood next to each other, indicating the size difference, in the Serengeti…

Antelope variety

The diversity and different adaptive strategies employed by the varied antelope species fascinates me. Whilst the Gazelle above can roam for days in near-desert conditions, the Defassa Waterbuck, below, will never stray far from a source of water…

The deer-like appearance of the Waterbuck, above, can be contrasted with the final two species of the total 9 members of the antelope family we saw: the strange looking Coke’s Hartebeest…

… and the beautifully marked, Topi…

If you go on African Safari, I strongly encourage you to look closely at the antelope, for I am quite certain that many secrets of life on the Savannah can be unlocked through study of these amazing creatures.

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