The term antelope is used to refer to many species of even-toed ruminant indigenous
to various regions in Africa
Antelope comprise a wastebasket taxon
(miscellaneous group) within the family Bovid
ae, encompassing all Old World
ruminants that are not bovine
, or goat
s. A group of antelope is called a herd
Unlike deer antler
s, which are shed and grown annually, antelope horns grow continuously.
The English word "antelope" first appeared in 1417 and is derived from the Old French
''antelop'', itself derived from Medieval Latin
''ant(h)alopus'', which in turn comes from the Byzantine Greek
word ἀνθόλωψ, ''anthólops'', first attested in Eustathius of Antioch
(), according to whom it was a fabulous animal
"haunting the banks of the Euphrates, very savage, hard to catch and having long, saw-like horns capable of cutting down trees". It perhaps derives from Greek ἀνθος, ''anthos'' (flower) and ώψ, ''ops'' (eye), perhaps meaning "beautiful eye" or alluding to the animals' long eyelashes. This, however, may be a later folk etymology
. The word ''talopus'' and ''calopus'', from Latin, came to be used in heraldry
. In 1607, it was first used for living, cervine
The 91 antelope species, most of which are native to Africa, occur in about 30 genera. The classification of tribes or subfamilies within Bovid
ae is still a matter of debate, with several alternative systems proposed.
Antelope are not a cladistic
or taxonomically defined group. The term is used to describe all members of the family Bovidae that do not fall under the category of sheep
, or goat
s. Usually, all species of the Alcelaphinae
, many Bovinae
, the grey rhebok
, and the impala
are called antelope.
Distribution and habitat
More species of antelope are native to Africa
than to any other continent, almost exclusively in savannah
s, with 20-35 species co-occurring over much of East Africa.
Because savannah habitat in Africa has expanded and contracted five times over the last three million years, and the fossil record indicates this is when most extant species evolved, it is believed that isolation in refugia during contractions was a major driver of this diversification.
Other species occur in Asia: the Arabian Peninsula
is home to the Arabian oryx
and Dorcas gazelle
. India is home to the nilgai
, Tibetan antelope
, and four-horned antelope
, while Russia and Central Asia have the Tibetan antelope, and saiga
No antelope species is native to Australasia
, nor do any extant species occur in the Americas
, though the nominate saiga subspecies occurred in North America during the Pleistocene. North America is currently home to the native pronghorn
, which taxonomists do not consider a member of the antelope group, but which is often locally referred to as such (e.g., "American antelope"). In Europe
, several extinct species occur in the fossil record, and the saiga was found widely during the Pleistocene
but did not persist into the later Holocene
, except in Russian Kalmykia
and Astrakhan Oblast
Many species of antelope have been imported to other parts of the world, especially the United States, for exotic game hunting. With some species possessing spectacular leaping and evasive skills, individuals may escape. Texas
in particular has many game ranches, as well as habitats and climates, that are very hospitable to African and Asian plains antelope species. Accordingly, wild populations of blackbuck antelope, gemsbok
, and nilgai may be found in Texas.
Antelope live in a wide range of habitats. Most live in the African Savannah's. However, many species are more secluded, such as the forest antelope, as well as the extreme cold-living saiga, the desert-adapted Arabian oryx, the rocky koppie
, and semiaquatic sitatunga
Species living in forests, woodland, or bush tend to be sedentary, but many of the plains species undertake long migrations. These enable grass-eating species to follow the rains and thereby their food supply. The gnus
s of East Africa
perform some of the most impressive mass migratory circuits of all mammals.
Antelope vary greatly in size. For example, a male common eland
can measure at the shoulder and weigh almost , whereas an adult royal antelope
may stand only at the shoulder and weigh a mere .
Not surprisingly for animals with long, slender yet powerful legs, many antelope have long strides and can run fast. Some (e.g. klipspringer) are also adapted to inhabiting rock koppies and crags. Both dibatag
s and gerenuk
s habitually stand on their two hind legs to reach acacia
and other tree foliage. Different antelope have different body types, which can affect movement. Duikers are short, bush-dwelling antelope that can pick through dense foliage and dive into the shadows rapidly. Gazelle
are known for their speed and leaping abilities. Even larger antelope, such as nilgai, elands
, and kudu
s, are capable of jumping or greater, although their running speed is restricted by their greater mass.
Antelope have a wide variety of coverings, though most have a dense coat of short fur. In most species, the coat (pelage) is some variation of a brown colour (or several shades of brown), often with white or pale underbodies. Exceptions include the zebra-marked zebra duiker
, the grey, black, and white Jentink's duiker
, and the black lechwe
. Most of the "spiral-horned" antelope have pale, vertical stripes on their backs. Many desert and semidesert species are particularly pale, some almost silvery or whitish (e.g. Arabian oryx); the beisa
and southern oryxes
have gray and black pelages with vivid black-and-white faces. Common features of various gazelle
s are white rumps, which flash a warning to others when they run from danger, and dark stripes midbody (the latter feature is also shared by the springbok and beira). The springbok also has a pouch of white, brushlike hairs running along its back, which opens up when the animal senses danger, causing the dorsal hairs to stand on end.
Antelope are ruminant
s, so have well-developed molar teeth
, which grind cud
(food balls stored in the stomach) into a pulp for further digestion. They have no upper incisors, but rather a hard upper gum pad, against which their lower incisors bite to tear grass stems and leaves.
Like many other herbivore
s, antelope rely on keen senses to avoid predators. Their eyes are placed on the sides of their heads, giving them a broad radius of vision with minimal binocular vision. Their horizontally elongated pupils also help in this respect. Acute senses of smell and hearing give antelope the ability to perceive danger at night out in the open (when predators are often on the prowl). These same senses play an important role in contact between individuals of the same species; markings on their heads, ears, legs, and rumps are used in such communication. Many species "flash" such markings, as well as their tails; vocal communications include loud barks, whistles, "moos", and trumpeting; many species also use scent marking
to define their territories
or simply to maintain contact with their relatives and neighbors.
Many antelope are sexually dimorphic. In most species, both sexes have horns, but those of males tend to be larger. Males tend to be larger than the females, but exceptions in which the females tend to be heavier than the males include the bush duiker
, dwarf antelope
, Cape grysbok
, and oribi
, all rather small species. A number of species have hornless females (e.g. sitatunga
, red lechwe
, and suni
). In some species, the males and females have differently coloured pelages (e.g. blackbuck
The size and shape of antelope horns varies greatly. Those of the duikers and dwarf antelope tend to be simple "spikes", but differ in the angle to the head from backward curved and backward pointing (e.g. yellow-backed duiker
) to straight and upright (e.g. steenbok
). Other groups have twisted (e.g. common eland
), spiral (e.g. greater kudu
), "recurved" (e.g. the reedbuck
s), lyrate (e.g. impala
), or long, curved (e.g. the oryx
es) horns. Horns are not shed and their bony cores are covered with a thick, persistent sheath of horny material
, both of which distinguish them from antlers.
Horns are efficient weapons, and tend to be better developed in those species where males fight over females (large herd antelope) than in solitary or lekking
species. With male-male competition for mates, horns are clashed in combat. Males more commonly use their horns against each other than against another species. The boss of the horns is typically arranged in such a way that two antelope striking at each other's horns cannot crack each other's skulls, making a fight via horn more ritualized than dangerous. Many species have ridges in their horns for at least two-thirds the length of their horns, but these ridges are not a direct indicator of age.
Antelope are often classified by their reproductive behavior.
Small antelope, such as dik-dik
s, tend to be monogamous. They live in a forest environment with patchy resources, and a male is unable to monopolize more than one female due to this sparse distribution. Larger forest species often form very small herds of two to four females and one male.
Some species, such as lechwe
s, pursue a lek breeding system, where the males gather on a lekking ground and compete for a small territory, while the females appraise males and choose one with which to mate.
Large grazing antelope, such as impala
, form large herds made up of many females and a single breeding male, which excludes all other males, often by combat.
Antelope pursue a number of defense strategies, often dictated by their morphology.
Large antelope that gather in large herds, such as wildebeest, rely on numbers and running speed for protection. In some species, adults will encircle the offspring, protecting them from predators when threatened. Many forest antelope rely on cryptic
coloring and good hearing to avoid predators. Forest antelope often have very large ears and dark or striped colorations. Small antelope, especially duiker
s, evade predation by jumping into dense bush where the predator cannot pursue. Springboks use a behavior known as stotting
to confuse predators.
Open grassland species have nowhere to hide from predators, so they tend to be fast runners. They are agile
and have good endurance
—these are advantages when pursued by sprint-dependent predators such as cheetah
s, which are the fastest of land animals, but tire quickly. Reaction distances vary with predator species and behaviour. For example, gazelles may not flee from a lion
until it is closer than 200 m (650 ft)—lions hunt as a pride or by surprise, usually by stalking; one that can be seen clearly is unlikely to attack. However, sprint-dependent cheetahs will cause gazelles to flee at a range of over .
If escape isn't an option, antelope are capable of fighting back. Oryxes
in particular have been known to stand sideways like many unrelated bovids to appear larger than they are, and may charge at a predator as a last resort.
About 25 species are rated by the IUCN
, such as the dama gazelle
and mountain nyala
. A number of subspecies are also endangered, including the giant sable antelope
and the mhorr gazelle
. The main causes for concern for these species are habitat loss, competition with cattle for grazing, and trophy hunting.
The chiru or Tibetan antelope
is hunted for its pelt, which is used in making ''shahtoosh'' wool, used in shawls. Since the fur can only be removed from dead animals, and each animal yields very little of the downy fur, several antelope must be killed to make a single shawl. This unsustainable demand has led to enormous declines in the chiru population.
[ Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is considered endangered.]
The saiga is hunted for its horns, which are considered an aphrodisiac
by some cultures. Only the males have horns, and have been so heavily hunted that some herds contain up to 800 females to one male. The species has shown a steep decline and is critically endangered.
It is difficult to determine how long antelope live in the wild. With the preference of predators towards old and infirm individuals, which can no longer sustain peak speeds, few wild prey-animals live as long as their biological potential. In captivity, wildebeest have lived beyond 20 years old, and impalas have reached their late teens.
[Mungall, Elizabeth Cary and Sheffield, William J. (1994). ''Exotics on the Range: The Texas Example''. Texas A & M Univ Press. ]
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The antelope's horn is prized for supposed medicinal and magical powers in many places. The horn of the male saiga, in Eastern practice, is ground as an aphrodisiac, for which it has been hunted nearly to extinction. In the [[Republic of the Congo">Congo, it is thought to confine spirits. Christian iconography sometimes uses the antelope's two horns as a symbol of the two spiritual weapons Christians possess: the [[Old Testament]] and the [[New Testament]]. The antelope's ability to run swiftly has also led to their association with the [[wind]], such as in the ''[[Rig Veda]]'', as the steeds of the [[Maruts]] and the wind god Vayu
. There is, however, no scientific evidence that the horns of any antelope have any change on a human's physiology or characteristics.
In Mali, antelope were believed to have brought the skills of agriculture to mankind.
Humans have also used the term "Antelope" to refer to a tradition usually found in the sport of track and field.
of animals requires certain traits in the animal that antelope do not typically display. Most species are difficult to contain in any density, due to the territoriality of the males, or in the case of oryx
es (which have a relatively hierarchical social structure), an aggressive disposition; they can easily kill a human. Because many have extremely good jumping abilities, providing adequate fencing is a challenge. Also, antelope will consistently display a fear response to perceived predators, such as humans, making them very difficult to herd or handle. Although antelope have diets and rapid growth rates highly suitable for domestication, this tendency to panic
and their nonhierarchical
social structure explains why farm-raised antelope are uncommon. Ancient Egyptians kept herds of gazelles and addax
for meat, and occasionally pets. It is unknown whether they were truly domesticated, but it seems unlikely, as no domesticated gazelles exist today.
However, humans have had success taming certain species, such as the elands
. These antelope sometimes jump over each other's backs when alarmed, but this incongruous talent seems to be exploited only by wild members of the species; tame elands do not take advantage of it and can be enclosed within a very low fence. Their meat, milk, and hides are all of excellent quality, and experimental eland husbandry has been going on for some years in both Ukraine
and Zimbabwe. In both locations, the animal has proved wholly amenable to domestication. Similarly, European visitors to Arabia reported "tame gazelles are very common in the Asiatic countries of which the species is a native; and the poetry of these countries abounds in allusions both to the beauty and the gentleness of the gazelle." Other antelope that have been tamed successfully include the gemsbok
, the kudu
and the springbok
Nor are the characteristics described above necessarily barriers to domestication; for further information, see animal domestication
A wide variety of antelope hybrids
have been recorded in zoos, game parks, and wildlife ranches, due to either a lack of more appropriate mates in enclosures shared with other species or a misidentification of species. The ease of hybridization shows how closely related some antelope species are. With few exceptions, most hybrid antelope occur only in captivity.
Most hybrids occur between species within the same genus. All reported examples occur within the same subfamily. As with most mammal hybrids, the less closely related the parents, the more likely the offspring will be sterile.
Antelope are a common symbol in heraldry
, though they occur in a highly distorted form from nature. The heraldic antelope has the body of a stag
and the tail of a lion
, with serrated horns, and a small tusk at the end of its snout. This bizarre and inaccurate form was invented by European heralds in the Middle Ages, who knew little of foreign animals and made up the rest. The antelope was mistakenly imagined to be a monstrous beast of prey; the 16th century poet Edmund Spenser
referred to it as being "as fierce and fell as a wolf
Antelope can all also occur in their natural form, in which case they are termed "natural antelope" to distinguish them from the more usual heraldic antelope.
The arms previously used by the Republic of South Africa
featured a natural antelope, along with an oryx
Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008 "Antelope"
AZA Antelope Taxon Advisory GroupUltimate Ungulate