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?
NB: Read until the very end for a special bonus! 😉
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). Similar to most antelope species, females are hornless and relatively smaller in size.
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 15 stripes, the greater kudu generally has 4 to 12.
Have you ever noticed a kudu’s ears?
Kudu ears are unmistakably large. It’s very funny to watch when they hear intriguing sounds. 🙂
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.
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 165 cm in length? Impressive, huh? 😉
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.
Males are conspicuously different from females both in terms of coat (dark and shaggy), and horns (females don’t have any).
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. Roans are lighter in colour, have shorter horns, and their tasseled ears are significantly longer.
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.
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.
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.
NB: The black tufts above the hooves on the hind legs conceal scent glands, which they use to attract a mate.
When one first thinks of gemsbok – one of four oryx species – it is usually associated with sand dunes and desert regions.
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.
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).
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! 😉
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”!
Gerenuk are a slender mix between an impala and 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.
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.
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 the southern one (Tragelaphus scriptus sylvaticus).
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.
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.
The 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.
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 those towering giants to reach up to 345 cm in length. That’s over three meters!
The reason for the name ‘giant’ is regarding its horns. Giant elands 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.
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 familiar 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.
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 tsessebe, Bangweulu 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
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.
Special Bonus: African Antelope Infographic
If you liked our post, you’re in for a treat.
Here’s a special bonus, featuring the most elegant African antelope in a colourful infographic.
From stunning photos to striking features, it summarizes key points in an easy to digest format.
Enjoy, and feel free to share it on social media! 😉
[Click image for full size version]
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?
27 thoughts on “Top 16 most elegant antelope in Africa”
Thank you for putting all the different antelope species.
There are so many kinds of antelopes and all of them are amazing.
Is a reebok a deer or antelope?
Do you mean rhebok/rhebuck, or reedbuck?
Yes, both the rhebok and reedbuck are antelopes.
While I initially thought there were no deer species in Africa, I was mistaken (and gladly learned something new).
According to Wikipedia, the Barbary stag (also known as the Atlas deer), “is the only member of the deer family that is native to Africa. It thrives in dense, humid forested areas of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco”.
So the African deer is indeed a reality.
Fallow deer have also been introduced in South Africa, by the occupying British in the 1860s.
They have adapted quite well to areas like the Free State and Eastern Cape, though unfortunately they are now being hunted as trophies. 🙁
When I visited Kenya many years ago I went on a safari. The tour guide pointed to what looked like a group of antelopes. He called them “Burrobastards” and we laughed but he did not laugh and confirmed that he was serious about the name. I would like to know if there is a stain of antelopes with this name …I am unsure of the spelling and I have typed it phonetically.
Probably a joke to be honest… 🙂
I think there are kori bustards in Kenya, but they are birds – he may have referred to something colloquially, or otherwise having a joke.
The biggest antelope in the world is in fact India’s Nilgai, also known as a Blue Bull. It is slightly larger than the eland.
Hi Giles, thanks for your comment! 🙂
While I am not necessarily familiar with the Nilgai (glad you mentioned it as I learned something new), from what I know and have read male Elands weigh 500-600 kg on average (with up to 1000 kg for the Giant eland species)! In comparison maximum weight for the Nilgai is +/- 300 kg, which makes it the largest Asian antelope!
Let me know if you have more accurate numbers to share…
I would like to learn more about the social organization of antelopes
I think they mainly just join the ELKS club… lol
The title ‘Ten Most Elegant’ assumes they are placed in some sort of order. The Kudu, certainly warrants its place, a magnificent animal and arguably is first. But the use of the word ‘Elegant’ could only put one antelope in first place, the Sable. A full grown male, the sun glinting off his black shiny coat, head held high with horns curving back almost touching his rump, a beautiful sight to behold. In my estimation, definitely the most ELEGANT.
But then again, who keeps a scoreboard in Africa, they (the animals) are all beautiful.
Hi Bob, thanks a million for your comment! 🙂
You have a point, I also love the Sable…though the Roan has to be one of my favs!
So hard to pick a winner…love them all! 😉
Thanks for stopping by…
Nice information. But you need to correct one fact. Roan are the second largest antelope to the Eland.
Thanks for your comment! 🙂
Can you tell me where you got the info from? I could be mistaken, but from what I know/have read, there are other antelope species which are larger/heavier than the Roan (such as the Kudu, up to 270 kg; and the Waterbuck, that can weigh over 250 kg).
In other words, the top 5 heaviest antelope species in Africa would consist of:
We own what we believe are the three most beautiful antelope in the world, namely roan, sable and greater kudu. We believe the most beautiful is the roan closely followed by the sable. But we can understand that many prefer the sable.
Majestic, wow! 🙂 Thanks a lot for sharing! 😉
The Eland antelope: http://bit.ly/19X1Hw Maybe not one of the most elegant, but still impressive.
The Hartebeest: http://bit.ly/16CFJr
Your link just didn't want to work for some reason…very strange!
Thanks for that, beautiful antelope indeed! 😉
Hey guys, thanks for the feedback! 🙂
I can see you all have different opinions on the matter…that's great, love it! 😉
Here are two more antelope species that I probably could’ve included in the list:
– The bontebok, restricted to South Africa.
– The bongo, primarily found in the Congo, southern Sudan and the montane forests of Kenya.
Can you think of any other ones that I may have missed out???
I love the unique look of the gerenuk, but the sable is beautiful
oryx, by far !!!! Well, I'm in love with the desert and the etosha.There's a certain spirit about the gemsbok that's breathtaking.
Love this article!!
I think the Kudu male looks really impressive, but so do the horns of the Gemsbok! The female Impala looks really pretty with these big eyes (reminds me of Bambi's mum. hehe)
But there is defintely no winner or loser. All of them are absolutely gorgeous!
Dorothee (from Southafrica-stay.com)
This is a fantastic post, thanks!! I learnt something.
My favourite is the Sable antelope. So majestic and rarely seen.
The gerenuk is the most interesting looking one. Of course, they are all very beautiful creatures….God is the master of variety!!!
I like the gerenuk too, most definitely an "interesting" creature! 😉
Love kudus though, as well as roan and sable antelopes…very difficult to choose, as you said they're all quite stunning!