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Many animals with horns can be found on the African continent. Unfortunately, many of these are hunted for their horns. Some species face near extinction purely because they are animals with horns!

However, millions of these animals still cover the African savanna. There are many graceful herds of the Bovidae family to appreciate. Here is everything you need to know about animals with horns.

Animals With Horns or Antlers?

The semantics of language has resulted in horns being used to describe the headgear donned by most African animals. The term antlers refers to the structures on the head of most North America dwelling animals, like caribou.

It’s easy to assume the two terms are interchangeable and simply exist as a result of American English versus UK English.

In actual fact, horns and antlers have significant differences in their purpose, structure, growth, and the animals on which they can be found.

Antlers

Male caribou with magnificent antlers, Toklat River basin

Antlers grow on the Cervidae family of animals, such as moose, elk and deer. Antlers are usually covered in a velvety growth as opposed to the hard keratin of horns. Over time the velvet texture disappears and the antlers become smooth and shiny.

Horns

Pair of blesbok in golden grass, Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Horns, on the other hand, belong to the Bovidae family. This includes various species of antelope and gazelle as well as cows, sheep, and goats.

Horns are coarse and rough. Just like human nails they continue to grow throughout an animal’s life, accounting for scrapes and activities that wear them down.

How to Instantly Tell Horns From Antlers

Horns can be distinguished from antlers instantly – horns are one solid structure. They can twist or curve, protrude far or barely show, but they are also one solid mass. Antlers fan out into branch-like shapes or fingered structures.

Discover African Animals With Horns

Thomson's gazelle in purple flowerbed, Amboseli

Gazelle

There are over 14 different types of gazelle falling under the antelope genus as a group called Gazella.

Of the 14, six are found in Africa, including the Dorcas gazelle which is found in the Sahara Desert and throughout the Northern regions of Africa.

Grant’s gazelle are some of the tallest gazelles, and the slender-horned gazelle is now an endangered species due to a loss of habitat and human expansion.

Other species of gazelle that are found in Africa include Speke’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, and dama gazelle.

African gazelles’ horns

Both males and females grow horns (with a few exceptions). However, in many instances the females have shorter horns than the males.

Male gazelles have longer horns than females in order to win dominance. A dominant male establishes himself by challenging others with their horns.

Horns also serve the purpose of protecting the fawn (the offspring). It is believed that the females are naturally attracted to males that are equipped with horns for this very primal purpose.

Impala

The impala is one of the most common antelope species in Africa. They’re unbelievably swift runners and their impressive leaps have been measured to be as high as 3 metres in the air, and 10 metres in length!

If there is danger about, they alert the herd by making a loud barking noise. When food and water are plentiful, they tend to break into smaller groups. When scarcity hits during the dry season, impala come together in groups as large as 100-200 individuals, to search for food and water together.

Impala horns

Only the male impala grow horns. These horns tend to be dark in colour and curve outwards from the impala’s head, meaning the tips are far apart. Being splayed apart enables male impala to lock horns with other males when they compete for dominance.

They’re usually around 70 cm in length and have ridges. The horns are strong enough to survive combats between males, but they are hollow inside, and a cross-section is circular.

Females are able to extend their pregnancy by as much as a whole month if they feel unsafe or if there is too little food available!

Kudu

Majestic greater kudu with its long spiralling horns

One of the largest members of the Bovidae species, kudu can stand as high as 150 centimetres!

Kudu males (known as bulls) are also easily recognised by their impressive horns. Some of the longest animal horns ever measured and recorded were 180 centimetres in length. And they belong to the kudu.

Only the bulls have horns so it’s easy to distinguish male kudu from female kudu. The females are also far more petite and shorter.

Kudu horns

Kudu horns are majestic and beautiful. They are widely sold for their decorative qualities. Many African tribes also purpose them into musical instruments.

They are hollow, which means they can serve as containers. They’re also used in traditional African rituals and practices.

These animals use their horns in combat with other males to establish dominance. The spiral shape allowing them to interlock easily.

Gemsbok

There are two main varieties of gemsbok. The southern gemsbok is typically found in arid regions like the Kalahari. In the open grasslands of the more northern parts of Africa (mainly East Africa) you will find the northern gemsbok (oryx).

Gemsboks enjoy each other’s company and generally form groups of around ten individuals. If food and water become scarce, they form smaller groups or even wander off as individuals.

Gemsboks can be incredibly dangerous, they use their horns by lowering the head and charging. This defence is so lethal they have little need to run from predators.

Gemsbok horns

The Gemsbok is sometimes called the sabre antelope, named for the lethal horn which can spear an opponent or potential threat. In fact, the tips are so sharp and dangerous, many African tribes use them as points for their spears.

Both males and females have horns, although the females’ horns are significantly more slender than the horns of the males. The horns extend fairly straight forwards at an impressive 83 centimetres.

Waterbuck

Common waterbuck (male) in tall grass, Moremi

There are two species of waterbuck, the defassa and common waterbucks. They are some of the most foul-smelling animals on the African plains. Their shaggy brown coats secrete an oily substance, presumably for waterproofing, which is incredibly smelly.

They live in woodlands, savanna grasslands, and anywhere nearby a stable water source. Living so close to water usually means they have access to an abundance of food. They tend to graze on the tougher grasses other animals ignore.

Waterbuck horns

Waterbuck horns are long and curve slightly. They never stop growing, which means the length of the horn indicates an animal’s age. Only male waterbucks will grow horns, the females do not.

The males may use their horns to ward off predators and also to establish dominance when they are sexually mature. In combat with other males, the standoff can get intense. Often, the combat is only concluded when one of the two is dead.

Springbok

Springboks are one of the smaller animals with horns in Africa. The females tend to form a herd of their own, where they raise their young.

The herd will also contain a few males who have proved their dominance. Springboks are named for their impressive jump – as high as 3.5 metres! It is thought that the purpose of these leaps is to distract predators. The proper term is pronking.

Springboks will feed on most plant types, depending on the season and availability. They prefer plants and flowers with higher water content, but will happily graze on grasses too.

Springbok horns

Males and females have a set of horns. Their horns are fairly modest in size at around 50 centimetres in length but boast a beautiful black colour. They curve backwards and contain evenly spaced ridges from the base to the tip. 

Eland

Male common eland with carmine bee-eater in flight

This animal with horns is the slowest member of the antelope family. Eland are also one of the largest animals with horns in Africa. They can grow up to 3 metres in length and can weigh up to 900 kg.

If water is very scarce, the eland can actually reduce its water metabolism by increasing its body temperature. This enables them to survive in the semi-arid terrain of Africa – from Southern Africa up to Ethiopia, Angola, and even Malawi.

In Africa, there is a trend towards keeping eland in place of cattle. They are hardier and more drought-resistant. Their meat and milk are considered suitable substitutes.

Eland horns

Eland horns are not very long or particularly spectacular, but they serve the eland perfectly. Both males and females grow horns – the males’ horns tend to be shorter and thicker and the females’ are longer and thinner.

The horns have a twist towards the base and curve outwards to form a V shape. They can usually grow up to 70 centimetres in length.

Bongo

There’s a belief among certain African cultures that these animals can induce seizures in people. As a result, superstition and beliefs cause them to avoid encounters with bongos.

Bongos are among the larger members of the antelope family. There are two genera of bongo; lowland (western) and mountain (eastern).

They have excellent hearing and are capable of reaching epic speeds of around 60 km/h when they are pursued by a predator. The males live alone while the females form groups (herds) and raise their young together. A group typically contains 5-40 individuals plus their offspring.

Bongo horns

These animal horns can reach an astounding 99 centimetres in length! Both males and females are equipped with a set of twisted, lyre-shaped horns. The horns are more spectacular in the males who tend to have more twists and girth.

Wildebeest

Blue wildebeest close-up portrait

Easily recognised by their anvil-shaped head, wildebeest have become something of an icon when the African plains come to mind. They’re nicknamed “the poor man’s buffalo”.

One of the traits that make them so distinguishable is the size of their herds. When the rains move across East Africa, over 1 million of these animals form the great wildebeest migration and move to fresh pastures.

There are two species of wildebeest and the blue wildebeest is the one most people identify with. It’s not blue, rather, its back is a silver colour while its head is black.

The black wildebeest is similar but much darker all over. From a distance, it looks black, but at closer inspection, it is actually brown.

Wildebeest horns

In wildebeest, both males and females grow horns, however, the males have substantially thicker and larger horns. An adult male’s horns can reach a width of around 50 centimetres.

The horns are used by the males to impress females. They do this by bellowing and thrashing in a typical display which helps to establish territory.

Cape buffalo

Also called the African buffalo, this gigantic bovine dwells in the plains of Africa, relishing swamplands and savanna terrains.

They’re one of the largest and most successful grazers. There are four subspecies of buffalo including the African forest buffalo, the West African savanna buffalo, the central African savanna buffalo, and the southern savanna buffalo or Cape buffalo.

The largest buffalo weighs around 910 kg – just short of a ton! And they can run as fast as 56 km/h.

Buffalo horns

Buffalo horns are a defining feature on these large beasts. They’re rather ornate and decorative, running along the top of the head before curving elegantly off into a sharp point. Each horn is joined by a fused base which grows as an extension of the animal’s bone.

Both males and females grow horns. They tend to reach around 80 cm in length (sometimes even more).

Hartebeest

Red hartebeest walking in golden morning light, Karoo

Hartebeest” comes from the words “tough ox”. From far away, they look like slightly misshaped antelope. They have strong family groups with an established hierarchy among the males. The males will often forego necessary hydration in order to maintain the role of alpha in their territory.

That is because it is common for them to return from seeking water to find another male has claimed the title of alpha. Breeding season occurs in accordance with rains – if there is food and water readily available, regardless of the season, they will breed.

Hartebeest horns

These animal horns are around 50 centimetres in length. They curve outwards and away from each other, and then back towards each other.

There are also ridges. Both males and females grow horns and the length of these horns depends on the age of the animal, as they grow for their entire lives.

Nubian ibex

The Nubian ibex looks like a goat with spectacular horns. They dwell around rocky outcrops in mountainous regions, living in social groups of up to 8 individuals (for females).

The males tend to wander alone. But when breeding season arrives, the males will join a female herd for up to eight weeks in order to mate.

To win this privilege, the males must first compete for dominance. For this, they employ the use of their large and backwards-curving horns.

Nubian ibex horns

The most impressive thing about these animals with horns is that standoffs take place at heights, sometimes on the edge of a cliff or a rocky outcrop. Nubian ibex are not only fighting each other –  a single false step and an ibex will fall to its death.

Scimitar-horned oryx

Scimitar-horned oryx, also known as the Sahara oryx, was once widespread throughout North Africa

Also sometimes called the Sahara oryx, this animal has been extinct in the wild since the year 2000.

This was largely due to over-hunting for their horns. Now, they are bred in special reserves. In Chad, there has been a successful reintroduction of these animals into the wild.

They require almost no water for survival which equips them to dwell in arid regions, like deserts. They don’t form bachelor pods or female herds, but stay together in groups of up to 70 members.

Scimitar-horned oryx horns

Both males and females grow long straight horns which have a distinctive backwards curve. The female’s horns are often more slender. The horns are a distinctive feature, measuring up to 1.2 metres in length.

Rhino

Rhinos are probably the best-known animals with horns in Africa. There are two main species of rhinothe black rhino and the white rhino. They have become a critically endangered species due to poaching.

Their horns are prized by particular cultures. While there are extensive efforts to prevent poaching, it remains a devastating issue which plagues many African national parks and conservation efforts.

Rhino horns

Both rhino species have two horns, though they usually differ in both shape and size.

The black rhino’s horns are more evenly sized and rounded at the base.

White rhinos usually have one large horn and one small horn. They look a little more ‘squarish’ in shape as well.

The horns are used for self-defence and also to help them find food. White rhinos are grazers and their horns assist them in finding and consuming low growing plant matter. The black rhino is a browser and tends to eat from trees – leaves, twigs and fruits are its favourites.

Giraffe

Loving 'neck' interaction between two giraffes

Giraffes are best known for their long necks and distinctively patterned coats. They only drink water every few days thanks to their diet, which is rich in water-dense plants.

Giraffe have four stomachs to help them process the roughage and the cellulose-rich plant matter that they consume. When the giraffe calf is born, it can fall a considerable distance from its mother to the ground. However, within a day a calf is strong enough to run alongside its mother.

Giraffe horns

A giraffe’s horns are called ossicones. The exact reason for their existence is a mystery. However, giraffe often use these ossicones in self-defence.

They use the horns by swinging their heads and necks violently from side to side, often connecting their enemy with those horns.

Not all giraffes have two horns, some have three. Ossicones look like antlers but they’re covered with skin – so they’re not. They’re also different from horns. They feel similar to the legs of the giraffe, firm but also slightly fuzzy.

Discovering Africa’s Animals With Horns on a Safari

Which animal with horns is your favourite? The large and majestic, the stinky, or the graceful?

Don’t wait too long because some of these animals with horns are already extinct in the wild. So maybe it’s time to go on safari to encounter these magnificent creatures.