The name 'antelope' is given to a large group of hoofed animals with hollow horns. Antelopes are herbivores, eating different plants so those living in the same habitats do not compete with each other for food. They are ruminants. Most antelopes are found in Africa, but some are found in Asia and North America. No antelopes are native to Australia or New Zealand.
Antelopes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colours. Some are very small, such as the dik-dik or the royal antelope which is about 25 cm high at the shoulder. The largest is the eland (say ee-land), standing at about 1.8 m high at the shoulder and weighing over 650 kg.
Antelope horns come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes. They can be spiralled, twisted, curved or straight. The largest belong to the male greater kudu (say koo doo), which has horns that can grow to almost 2 m in length.
Whatever the size and shape, the horns grow around two bony stumps on the antelope's skull. The horns are hard and hollow. They grow all through the antelope's life, and do not fall off. In some kinds of antelope the both the males and females have horns.
Most antelopes live in herds for safety. Some herds are
huge. Antelopes live in a variety of habitats. Most live on grasslands, such as eland and kudu. Others live:
Antelope have excellent senses and are alert to look out for predators. Most antelopes are fast runners, and escape predators with great leaps. The fastest can reach speeds of about 95 km per hour. However, antelope species living in arid, or desert, areas do not run as fast as others because they have wide feet for movement on the desert sand.
- on mountains, such as the klipspringer;
- in wetlands, such as the waterbuck;
- in deserts, such as the addax and oryx.
The addax and oryx antelopes live in arid deserts. They have other special features to cope with this habitat. They drink very little, but eat at night when it is cooler and the plants are wet with dew. They pass little moisture out of their bodies. To cope with extreme heat, their bodies have a system of cooling the blood before it goes to the brain. Their fur is generally paler on their underside to reflect ground heat away from the stomach.
Antelope females give birth somewhere between 4-9 months after mating, depending on what species they are. The calves are cleaned, fed and settled in a secret spot after they are born. The mothers leave the calves, and visit every few hours to feed and clean them. They do this so that they do not lead predators to their calves. The calves stay motionless when they are alone, camouflaged in the undergrowth. After a few weeks they join the herd. The calves are generally very independent, spending more time together than with their mothers.
Antelopes : The Bongo
The Bongo, or broad-horned antelope, Boocercus eurycerus, is one of Africa's most elusive animals. Keeping close to the jungle, it never shows itself in the open. The bongo is about four feet high at the shoulder.
It is a rich chestnut color with vertical white lines on the sides of the body. Bulls grow darker with age and become black about the head and neck. Both male and female have massive horns that spiral in one complete twist, but the female's are not as large as the male's.
Antelopes : The Gemsbok
The Gemsbok, Oryx gazella, may not be the fleetest antelope on the African plains, but it requires an exceptionally fast horse to overtake one. When hard pressed or attacked, the gemsbok will boldly defend itself. Four-foot-long rapier-like horns extend backward and upward from the head. Both sexes have horns but the females are longer.
Gemsboks are sociable animals, spending time on open plains. They walk along in single file. Their general color is grayish brown with a black stripe extending along the lower sides of the body.
The gemsbok is one kind of a group of antelopes known as oryxes. Other oryxes are much like their big relative the gemsbok. The Beisa Oryx and the Fringe-Ear Oryx of East Africa have shorter horns than the gemsbok and lack the black flank stripes; otherwise the animals look much the same. The White Oryx inhabits the deserts of North Africa. Its horns are not straight but curve strongly backwards.
Antelopes : The Red Sable
The Red Sable, Hippotragus niger, is one of the most stately of the antelopes. Mainly a grass eater, it prefers open sunlit glades. Alarmed, it utters a series of snorts much like a horse. If wounded and cornered, it will fight savagely for its life. Its long arching horns can reach a length of 64 inches. It is about 4-1/2 feet at the shoulder and weighs around 450 pounds.
Antelopes : The Gazella
The Gazelle, Gazella, is a slender, beautifully formed small antelope with high-tension muscles that can send it racing across the barren wilderness at an amazing speed. They can be found in desert regions, treeless plains and sandy wastes. There are about 60 different kinds of gazelles in southern Asia and northern Africa. They are rather small, about 2 to 3 feet at the shoulder. These are Gerenuk or Waller's Gazelle, Litocranius walleri. They are noted for their ability to feed while standing on their hind legs. This allows it to reach leaves on which it dines. It also has a very slender long neck and legs that are very long for the size of its body. The gerenuk lives in East Africa.