at the shoulder
||165 to 350
||12 to 15
jackals, lions, hyenas, leopards,hunting
Coke's hartebeest, also called kongoni, is the most
widespread hartebeest. It is found on the open grassy plains and
tree grasslands in southern Kenya and Tanzania.
The hartebeest is a large, fawn-colored antelope that
at first glance seems strangely misshapen and less elegant than
other antelopes. Clumsy in appearance, it is hump-shouldered,
with a steeply sloping back, slim legs and a long, narrow face.
It is far from clumsy, however, and is in fact one of the
fastest antelopes and most enduring runners. These qualities
gave rise to the name "hartebeest," which means "tough ox."
Scientists differ about the classification of the hartebeest.
Some consider the group to have several geographic
representatives of the same species, while others think it
represents different species. The shape of the horns and the
color of the coat seem to be the most important diagnostic
indicators. Hunter's, Jackson's, Lichtenstein's and Coke's
hartebeest are found in East Africa.
Hartebeest are mainly found in medium and tall grasslands,
including savannas. They are more tolerant of high grass and
woods than other alcelaphines (archetypical plains antelopes).
The hartebeest is one of the most sedentary antelopes (making
it easy to hunt), but it does move around more when larger
groupings form during the dry seasons or in periods of drought,
to seek water and better grazing. At other times the females
form small groups of five to 12 animals that wander around their
home range. Most mature males become solitary and spread out in
adjoining territories. Hartebeests go to water regularly, but in
some circumstances territorial males appear to go without
drinking for rather long periods. The home ranges are usually
densely populated. When a territorial male returns from
watering, he may find another in his place.
Females are free to seek the best grazing in their home
range, but males cannot leave their territories for long if they
intend to keep them. Successful breeding only takes place within
the territories-open, short-grass areas of ridges or rises on
plateaus are the most favored spots. Males strenuously defend
their territories; they often stand on open, elevated areas to
keep a lookout for intruders. Should a territorial male be
challenged, a fight may develop. Males are aggressive,
especially so during breeding peaks. Like many antelopes,
however, hartebeests have developed ways of fighting that
determine dominance without many fatalities or serious injuries.
A ritualized series of head movements and body stances, followed
by depositing droppings on long-established dung piles that mark
the territory's borders, normally precede any actual clashing of
horns and fighting. After the dominance ritual, one male may
leave. If not, the hartebeest with its stout horns, short,
strong neck and heavily muscled shoulders, is well-prepared for
fighting. If the dispute over a territory is serious and both
males are prepared to fight over it, severe injury may result.
The hartebeest feeds almost entirely on grass, but is not very
selective and quite tolerant of poor-quality food. It has
suffered from the expansion of cattle raising, as hartebeests
and cattle compete for the same food.
Caring for the Young
The social organization of the hartebeest is somewhat
different than that of other antelopes. Adult females do not
form permanent associations with other adults; instead, they are
often accompanied by up to four generations of their young.
Female offspring remain close to their mothers up to the time
they give birth to calves of their own. Even male offspring may
remain with their mothers for as long as 3 years, considered an
unusually long bonding period. As groups of females move in and
out of male territories, the males sometimes try to chase away
the older offspring. Their mothers become defensive and protect
them from the males. Although bachelor herds of young males are
also formed, they are less structured than those of some
antelopes, and age classes are not as conspicuous.
Young are born throughout the year, but conception and
breeding peaks may be influenced by the availability of food.
The behavior of the female hartebeest when she gives birth is
very different from that of the wildebeest. Instead of calving
in groups on open plains, the hartebeest female isolates herself
in scrub areas to give birth and leaves the young calf hidden
for a fortnight, only visiting it briefly to suckle.
Juvenile mortality is thought to be relatively low, despite the
number of potential predators. Cheetahs and jackals prey on
small calves, while young and adult hartebeests are killed by
lions, hyenas, leopards, hunting dogs and people.
Did you know?
- The ancient Egyptians are said to have semidomesticated
the hartebeest for use as a sacrificial animal. Because the
species competes with cattle for food, further attempts at
domestication are unlikely.
- Although a prolific breeder and even a dominant species in
some areas, the hartebeest has probably suffered the greatest
reduction in range of all African ruminants