||43 to 54
inches at the shoulder
||400 to 500
||260 to 280
lions, leopards, hyenas, huntingdogs,
One of the most impressive antelopes found in East Africa is
the sable. Because of habitat destruction and poaching, it is
also one of the most endangered.
The sable is a rotund, barrel-chested antelope with a short neck
and a long face. It resembles the larger roan antelope, to which
it is closely related. Among its distinctive features are its
long horns, some 40 to 65 inches long. The ringed horns rise
vertically, then sweep backwards in a pronounced curve. They are
found in both sexes, but the male's horns are slightly larger
and heavier than the female's. Both males and females have manes
on the neck, and when they arch their necks and stand with their
head held high and tails outstretched, they resemble horses.
This flexed-neck position makes sables appear larger than they
really are. The males maintain this position even when they
gallop, as the arched neck is an important manifestation of
As they become older, sables change color. The calf
is grayish-brown and almost without marks, making it very
inconspicuous. As it matures and begins to take its place in a
herd, its coat becomes a rich reddish-brown, with the belly,
haunches and facial markings in greater contrast. At this time
the face is largely white, with a wide black stripe running from
the forehead to the muzzle, and black stripes from the eye to
Once adult, the female's color changes gradually with age and
status. The facial markings form a mask that contrasts with the
neck, shoulders and mane as they become darker. Eventually only
the rump is red. The darker color heightens the line of the face
and the front quarters, emphasizing the sweep of the long horns.
The color change in the adult male is more dramatic-all parts
that were previously red become black, and so contrast even more
with the facial mask and light underparts.
Sables live in areas of light woodland-especially "miombo," a
mixture of bush and grassland-but usually avoid open, grassy
Only a few of the most dominant of the mature males are able
to obtain and hold territories. They try to set them up on the
best grazing grounds because the more nutritious the feed, the
more females are attracted to the area. The changing color of
sables as they grow older signals their age to others, thus
granting them status and dominance in their social system.
Mating occurs inside the territories, so males with the best
territories have the best success rate. Small female herds,
varying from five to 20 individuals (but sometimes as many as 60
in the dry season), use home ranges that encompass the several
male territories. Once a female group wanders into a male's
territory, he tries to keep it there, especially if any females
are in estrus. He permits other males to graze in his territory,
but only if they remain subordinate, show him the proper respect
and take no interest in the females.
Fights may occur if the territorial male is challenged by
another male. Combat begins as both bulls slowly circle each
other, pawing the ground and lashing their tails. Soon they face
each other, shake their heads, drop to their knees and clash
horns. As this is usually a pushing contest of strength,
fighting to the death is rare.
Sables mostly eat grass but at times will eat herbs and leaves
from shrubs and trees. They are never found very far from water
and are especially dependent upon it during the dry season.
Caring for the Young
In some areas breeding females give birth during a two-month
period, the timing of which changes slightly from year to year.
When ready to give birth the female, often in the company of
several other pregnant females, leaves the herd and seeks a
secluded place in the bush. After birth she leaves the calf
hidden in the tall grass or bush, returning once or twice a day
to suckle the infant. After a couple of weeks, when the calf is
strong enough, she takes it back to her herd.
As the calves obtain adult coloration, the territorial males
and the females push the young males from the natal herd. The
young females remain, taking their place at the bottom of the
The young males are most vulnerable to predators during their
transition to a bachelor male herd. Lions, leopards, hyenas,
hunting dogs and crocodiles are their most frequent predators.
Once the sable is fully grown it is seldom bothered by the
animals; humans are then its most likely predator.
Did you know?
- A male regularly patrols his territory and engages in
ritual displays. He paws the ground, deposits dung and horns
the ground, spreading his scent around to make his presence
- Sables live in groups consisting of herds of females with
their young, male bachelor groups and solitary dominant males.
Age determines rank in the hierarchy.