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Topi
FACT FILE:
Swahili Name: Nyamera
Scientific Name: Damaliscus lunatus
Size: 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet
Weight: 200 to 300 pounds
Lifespan: 15 years
Habitat: Flood plains
Diet: Grazers
Gestation: 8 months
Predators: Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, hunting dogs


Among the most socially advanced of the ungulates, the topi occurs in the largest numbers in southern Sudan and in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. Its distribution is scattered, and populations isolated, probably because of habitat loss and hunting.

Physical Characteristics
The topi is a medium-sized antelope with a striking reddish-brown to purplish-red coat that is glossy, even iridescent in bright sunlight. Distinct black patches appear on the face, the upper forelegs and on the hips and thighs. To complete its singular appearance, the topi's yellowish-tan legs look like they are encased in stockings.

Although not quite as large as its relative the hartebeest (kongoni), the topi has a similar body shape. But it does not have such a long narrow head nor is it as high at the shoulder. The female is usually lighter in color than the male. Both sexes have thick, heavily ringed, lyre-shaped horns about 21 inches long. Topis have good sight and hearing and can run quite fast with a bounding gait.

Habitat
Their favorite habitat are flood plains, but they are sometimes found in dry areas of open savanna and park woodland, taking to the shade during the heat of the day. They prefer flat lowlands, and can go without water for long periods of time only if they have access to green pastures.

Behavior
Topis are exceptionally gregarious and live in herds of 15 to 20, although in some places, it is possible to see herds of hundreds. They have a remarkable social organization that is linked to the geographic and seasonal distribution of food. In some areas of the Serengeti and the Mara, topis have large territories within a home range, occupied throughout the year by a male and a small breeding herd of females. Both males and the females cooperate in defending the territory against strange topis of either sex.

In other areas, female topis form large herds that move across the territories of many different males. In this social system, the male's territory is small and unoccupied throughout the year. Each male has his "stomping ground," a patch of trampled bare earth upon which he stands. He defines his territory by depositing dung in a series of places, marking grass stems with his scent from the preorbital face glands and standing for long periods on a prominent place, where he can easily be seen by other topis. If another male intrudes upon his territory, the two go down on their knees and fight with their horns, pushing each other to and fro.

Topis are most active in the morning and evening, resting in shade through the hot hours. Like ruminants, they feed for a while, then rest and chew their cuds before they continue feeding. They have several rest breaks during the day and the rhythm of their daily activities is influenced by the food supply-the coarser and drier the feed, the longer rest time needed for digestion.

Diet
Topis eat only grass, avoiding both mature leaves and very young shoots.

Caring for the Young
Females reach maturity at about 1 1/2 years, males at about 3 years. Between 4 and 5 years of age, males begin to fight over territories, but only the strongest win them. Mating takes place in the territories. Infant topis spend their first 3 to 12 days lying out and about 3 months start growing horns and acquiring adult coloring.

Calving normally occurs once a year and is timed for periods when grass supplies are plentiful. Nonetheless topis are almost as flexible in their reproduction as they are in their social organization. If food supplies are particularly good, topis will conceive at different times of the year, with shorter intervals between calves.

Predators
Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and hunting dogs are among the topi's predators. Calves are also vulnerable to jackals, servals, caracals, pythons and large eagles.

Did you know?
  • Both male and female topis like to rub their heads on the ground (to spread scent from facial glands), roll in earth and stir up mud with their horns. They smear mud on their bodies with their hooves.
  • The gregarious topis spend much of their life with other antelopes such as wildebeest, and with zebra and ostrich.


                                                       copyright: Paul Janssen