Africa’s Most Elegant Antelope Species

Africa has more antelope than any other continent. Many people come on safari wanting to see antelope. But once on safari they realise that it’s not antelope, it’s kudu, eland, gemsbok, waterbuck, nyala, impala, springbok…wow the list goes on. Each has its own specialism and preferred habitat.

Gerenuk have giraffe-like necks to feed from branches others can’t reach.

Klipspringer are rock climbers, using exceptional agility to escape their predators.

Most of Africa’s most elegant antelope species prefer safety in numbers, but where and how they graze is different.

So if you don’t know a kudu from a gerenuk then this article is for you. It shows you some of the fabulous antelope that can be spotted on an African safari.

The antelope of Africa aren’t just unique. They are also abundant. If you’re coming on safari it’s rare to encounter two springbok; it’s more likely to encounter vast herds, with too many antelope to count!

Here’s my top 16 types of antelope list. What’s yours?

1. Kudu

Majestic greater kudu bull portrait with extremely long horns

The kudu is the world’s third largest antelope species behind the eland and bongo. Reaching up to 1,6 m at shoulder height, it weighs as much as 315 kg for the biggest bulls (though 190-270 kg is more common). It is by far one of the antelopes I admire the most, and is always a delight to watch in the wild.

These rather shy browsers are found in well-bushed regions and hills, and can remain motionless for long periods of time when feeling threatened. Kudu bulls have highly recognizable long, spiral horns (as portrayed above). As with most antelope species, females are hornless and relatively smaller in size.

Female greater kudu browsing for young shoots

There are two types of kudu: the greater kudu and the lesser kudu. The greater kudu is most common, while the lesser kudu is confined to East Africa.

Other than sizewise, one way to differentiate the two is to observe the number of white stripes on the side of the body. While the lesser kudu can have up to 14 stripes, the greater kudu barely has 6 or 7.

Have you ever noticed a kudu’s ears?

Female kudu portrait in afternoon sunlight. Kudu ears are unmistakably large.

Kudu ears are unmistakably large. It’s very funny to watch when they hear intriguing sounds. 🙂

2. Sable

Majestic sable antelope in its natural habitat, on a bright sunny day

The sable is also one of the largest antelope species found in Africa. Both sexes have imposing razor-sharp horns and magnificent black and white markings on the head. Males however are usually darker, whereas females and youngsters have a paler chestnut colour.

Female sable antelope in its natural habitat

Love these animals, yet they are seldom seen. I’ve only encountered them a few times so far, in places like Ruaha National Park (Tanzania) and Kafue in Zambia.

Did you know that sable antelope horns could measure up to 154 cm in length? Impressive, huh? 😉

3. Nyala

Beautiful male nyala portrait in early morning backlight

Yet another handsome, striking antelope that inhabits dense bush and riverine areas covered in vegetation. The nyala is relatively similar to the kudu, and females are often confused with the bushbuck.

Female nyala and two youngsters

Males are conspicuously different from females both in terms of coat (dark and shaggy), and horns (females don’t have any).

4. Roan

Roan antelope looking at the camera

The roan is the fourth-largest antelope species in Africa. Its beautifully curved horns and dramatic coloration make them a prized safari sighting.

They are not to be confused with the sable, their Hippotragus cousin. Roan’s are lighter in colour, have shorter horns, and their tasseled ears are significantly longer.

Female roan antelope having a dump, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Throw in the stereotypical ‘clown mask’ patterns on the roan’s face and you have a very unique appearance. It’s an absolutely stunning creature.

5. Impala

Female impala portrait in Kruger National Park

The impala is the most common African antelope out of them all. Known as the “McDonald’s” of the bush for its black and white “M-shaped” markings on the bum, it is the only animal you simply can’t miss on safari.

Now you know why impalas are sometimes referred to as the McDonald's of the bush

Impalas have acute hearing and are known for their loud uttered snorts capable of frightening elephants. They are extremely agile fellows and excellent jumpers.

The impala antelope is preyed upon by most big predators: lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, etc. In my opinion it is the most gracile animal of the African savanna.

Male impala in running motion, with muddy legs and an oxpecker on its back

NB: The black tufts above the hooves on the hind legs conceal scent glands, which they use to attract a mate.

6. Gemsbok

Gemsbok have long pointy horns that can be detrimental to potential predators

When one first thinks of gemsbok – one of four oryx species – it is usually associated with sand dunes and desert regions. Rightfully so. It is often referred to as “the spirit of the desert embodied in an antelope”.

Although arid habitat is typically where the animal is found, the gemsbok can also occasionally be encountered in savanna and mopane woodland. If you’re a fan of these breathtaking antelopes you are more likely to see them in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, or the well-known Etosha Pans of Namibia.

7. Waterbuck

Two male defassa waterbuck with their distinctive white rump patch

A robust, somewhat “overweight” animal found in small herds and dominated by a bull. As its name implies, waterbuck love water though they will often venture some distance away from it to feed.

Two subspecies co-exist: The common waterbuck with a distinctive white ring on its rear (see below), and the defassa waterbuck that has a white rump patch (pictured above).

Common waterbucks have an unmistakable elliptical ring on their bum

Did you know (just for fun)?

Do you know why common waterbucks have an elliptical ring around the rump? Read on…

When Noah built his Ark, the vessel’s toilet seats were painted in white. Unfortunately, the waterbuck had drunk too much water and couldn’t resist the loo even though the toilet seats weren’t dry yet.

Very “funny”, I know! 😉

8. Springbok

Young springbok jumping in the air, commonly known as 'pronking'

This acrobatic antelope holds the title of the national animal of South Africa. They can be found throughout the country, in Namibia, and in small sections of southern Botswana. Sometimes considered a pest, these animals usually stick in large groups called ‘harems’ (mixed-sex herds).

The name ‘springbok’ comes from the Afrikaans word for jump (‘spring’), and refers to their incredible bouncing abilities. If you’re lucky, you will catch their elegant ‘pronking’ or ‘stotting’, which describes their habit of randomly jumping into the air with a stiff-legged posture. Almost like a ballerina performing a sauté.

The springbok is the only gazelle found beneath the Zambezi river. It has phenomenal eyesight and is highly gregarious. It is also the symbol of South Africa’s world cup winning rugby team: the “bokke”!

9. Gerenuk

Male gerenuk standing on its hind legs to reach acacia leaves

Gerenuk are a slender mix between an impala and a giraffe. A giraffe? Yes, these interesting animals have an extremely long neck relative to their body size. This useful adaptation, alongside an ability to stand easily on their hind legs, allows them to graze effortlessly on tree foliage.

They love to eat acacia leaves which are abundant in its environment. The gerenuk is considered as a browser and inhabits areas of dry bush and scrub.

Gerenuk family resting under a tree, with one member feeding

Apart from the unique shape of these animals, they also have beautiful lyre-shaped horns with distinctive white facial markings. These animals are absolutely adorable.

10. Bushbuck

Elegant male bushbuck in perfect lighting

Attractive medium-sized antelope found mostly around rivers, forests and dense bush areas. The bushbuck is mainly nocturnal but can sometimes be observed early in the morning or late in the afternoon during a game drive.

Interestingly enough, it varies from light to dark brown in colour depending on the region in which it lives. Originally there were over 40 subspecies, but new studies have limited this to 19.

Two distinct groups have been identified, namely the northern subspecies (Tragelaphus scriptus scriptus) and a southern one (Tragelaphus scriptus sylvaticus).

11. Klipspringer

Male klipspringer standing on a rock, Karoo National Park, South Africa

Like a ballerina performing an intricate dance, klipspringers can effortlessly leap across the rocky bush-covered landscape found throughout the mountains of southern Africa. If you’re lucky enough to see one of these agile African antelopes in person, you will probably agree on how elegant they are.

Klipspringers reach a maximum height of 60 cm (at the shoulders) and weigh up to 18 kg. Their nimble size and hollow, cylindrical hooves, are the perfect combination. These rock climbing experts can perform seemingly death-defying feats without even flinching.

12. Bontebok

Bontebok antelope portrait, with distinctive white, black and brown markings

A bontebok’s beautiful face is what makes them a must-see when going on a safari in South Africa. These majestic antelopes used to be hunted as pests, with their wild population reduced to just 17 by 1931.

Thankfully, private farmers in the southern Cape saw the risk and joined together to protect the elegant bontebok. Today you have plenty of opportunities to see these animals roaming around private farmland and nature reserves in South Africa.

These medium-sized animals belong to the genus Damaliscus, shared by another similarly elegant animal – the blesbok. This South African antelope lives further north in the highveld area, where their diet consists mainly of short grasses.

Bontebok on the other hand live amongst fynbos and renosterveld in the Cape.

13. Eland

Male eland antelope portrait in Mokala National Park, South Africa

Although you have already read through many different types of antelope in Africa, you have yet to see the largest elegant antelope – the eland. There are two species of eland, namely the common eland and the giant eland.

Despite the difference in their name, these antelopes are very similar in size. You can expect either of these towering giants to reach up to 290 cm in length. That’s almost three meters!

The reason for the name ‘giant’ eland is regarding its horns. These animals have massive horns of up to 120 cm in length on males and up to 66 cm on females.

The large horns are able to inflict damage during fights for dominance between males. Occasionally they are used to break off tall tree branches, and even to scrape mineral lick sites.

14. Bongo

Wild bongo in the bush near Nanyuki, Kenya

A large and beautiful animal, the bongo is a guaranteed entry on our most exotic antelopes list. The first thing you notice when spotting this animal is its striking coloration. They are a deep chestnut brown which glistens when hit by the African sun. However, that’s not all!

At first glance you might need to check your eyes, but you aren’t wrong. Bongos have some of the most pleasing stripe patterns found in Africa. 10-15 white stripes run perfectly down both sides of the animal, helping to break up its brown coat and create excellent camouflage.

This African antelope species’ spiralled horns might seem similar to you. Well, that’s because a few other animals on this list, like the nyala, bushbuck, and kudu all have a similar horn shape. These large animals are all cousins, belonging to the same Tragelaphus genus.

Fun fact: Bongos are the only antelope in the Tragelaphus genus that have horns regardless of their sex. Both male and female bongos grow them.

15. Tsessebe

Common tsessebe running in trotting mode, South Africa

Of all the African antelope types you may have heard of, the tsessebe is the fastest. These supreme athletes can reach an incredible 90 km/h.

To put that into perspective, Usain Bolt has reached a maximum of 45 km/h. So double the speed of the fastest human on earth, and you will have an idea of what the tsessebe can achieve.

The taxonomy surrounding these animals is quite contested. The Damaliscus genus currently contains six different subspecies, namely the common tsessebeBangweulu tsessebe, topi, korrigum, coastal topi, and tiang.

Fun fact: In Afrikaans (native South African language), the name for tsessebe is ‘bastard hartebeest’, which is due to its similarity in appearance to the non-related hartebeest antelope.

16. Scimitar Oryx

Scimitar oryx portrait (Oryx dammah)

The scimitar oryx is truly a magical creature. Its long, curved horns provide an unforgettable sight. The occasion is made more special when you consider how rare these animals are.

Although they are now surviving outside of captivity, in 2000 they were extinct in the wild. A small group went into an acclimation enclosure where they could prepare for reintroduction into their natural habitat. 16 years later, these majestic beasts were once again roaming their homeland in northern Africa.

Did you know that the scimitar oryx could be real-life unicorns? Even Aristotle thought that they could be the unicorn’s prototype. Well, considering their hollow horns don’t regrow if they break, it’s not that hard to imagine.

What is Your Favourite Antelope?

There are many more antelope species across Africa, although some really aren’t that elegant at all! Visit Africa on safari and you’ll realise that these sixteen are just the start.

So what’s your favourite? And when will you go searching for them in wild Africa?