1/2 to 4 1/2 feet
||200 to 300
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.
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
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.
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.
Topis eat only grass, avoiding both mature leaves and very
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
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.