There are over 90 species of antelope, most of which can be found in Africa, and about 20 of which are native to Serengeti. They aren’t the animals that people usually get excited about seeing on safari, but some of them are really beautiful and they’re very graceful animals to watch, especially if you catch them running or leaping.
The Impala is the most prevalent antelope in Serengeti (and also in many other African parks). Impalas are known as the “Bush McDonald’s” because they make a quick and easy meal for predators and they can be found around every corner. Some people also say that the black markings on their butts look like an “M.” Those black markings and the two-toned coloring of their bodies are the easiest ways to identify an impala. Adult males have long, spiraled horns, and the females have no horns.
Impalas generally live in large herds. The breeding herds are the largest, and consist of many females (usually at least 20, and sometimes up to 50 or 60), one dominant male, and babies. Young males will stay with the herd until their horns grow long enough to challenge the dominant male. At that point they must either fight the dominant male to gain control of the herd, or leave the herd entirely. Non-dominant males travel together in smaller bachelor herds.
A large herd of females with their offspring:
A smaller herd grazing under an Acacia tree:
A bachelor herd:
Dominant male watching over his herd — look at those graceful little impala-steps:
The Hartebeest (“tough ox” in Afrikaans) is a somewhat less common antelope in Serengeti. It’s one of the fastest species of antelope, although with its cow-style horns and long, boxy face, probably not one of the most attractive.
The Eland is the largest species of antelope — males regularly weigh 1000 lbs and can be even larger than that. They are also the slowest, but can defend themselves against predators by head-butting with their horns. Because of their size, they are generally not hunted by most predators, although they can be vulnerable to lions hunting in packs.
Before the days of game parks, the Eland was also commonly hunted by Bushmen using poison arrows. Bushmen particularly valued elands because they could feed so many people, and the Eland is the most important animal in the culture and religion of the Bushmen.
This is an Eland grazing by the lake in the Ngorongoro Crater:
Finally, we saw two species of gazelles, which are a sub-group of smaller antelopes.
This one is a Grant’s Gazelle, relaxing in the grass with a herd of migrating Wildebeests (Grant’s Gazelles, Thomson’s Gazelles, and some Impalas, Elands, and other Antelopes generally follow the Wildebeest migration):
And this is the adorable Thomson’s Gazelle, which I think is the prettiest antelope I’ve seen. It looks a little like a small impala (very small — adults usually don’t weigh more than 60 lbs), but with different markings, including a black tail and black stripe on its side, and smaller horns (on females as well as males).
Next time, I’ll try to get a video of one of these guys running. They have a distinctive jump called “stotting” that they use to warn each other of predators or confuse predators, or sometimes just to play, and it’s fun to watch.