A sable antelope crosses the savanna.

The sable antelope is a striking large species of antelope with a vibrant coat and sweeping horns.

Sable Antelope
Scientific Name:
Hippotragus Niger
235Kg (M) 210Kg (f)
Shoulder Height:
1.35m (M) 1.25m (F)
Mating Season:
Throughout the year


The Sable is a large antelope species. They can be identified by looking at their horns, which are curved backwards, as well as the sparkling, dark black color of their fur, except for their belly and its whole face excluding its nose, which is all white. Its nose is black, giving its face a very distinctive look. Males of the species reach weights of around 235kg while females are slightly less heavy, weighing around 220kg on average. There are slight differences between sub-species, with the more southern sable, found in the Kruger, being blacker in color. Other sub-species may differ in horn size, physical size and slightly in color.


The sable antelope can be found in scattered areas within Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, with great areas in which they are distributed in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In Angola the rare Greater Sable sub-species with its larger size and larger horns can be found, while the other populations more North in Tanzania and Zambia also form another sub-species. In South Africa Sables can only be found in reserves around the Kruger National Park, as well as the park itself, and on privately owned land such as commercial game farms, mainly in scattered areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.


The conservation status of these creatures differs when looking at the different sub-species in which this species can be further classified. The southern black sable still has many strong populations in Southern Africa and is by no means endangered. The royal sable of Angola, as stated before, is critically endangered, while the Zambian Sable found in Zambia and Tanzania is vulnerable to endangerment although they are the most widespread. Overall this species is not endangered or threatened by endangerment and has a population of around 75 000. Sub-species like the Royal Sables of Angola are threatened by endangerment and even extinction and their loss may affect the diversity of the species as a whole.


The habitats in which they thrive is the same as most antelope species, in grassland and savanna areas, where they eat mainly grass and leaves that are medium sized and low enough for them to reach. In the Kruger National Park they are found more to the North going into Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana, where the more north you travel the denser the population generally becomes. They are however quite picky when it comes to what a habitat should offer. According to recent studies Sables prefer tall sweet and sour grass, abundant drinking water, sandy soil, scattered trees and small shrubs within their habitat. Although this is by no means the only areas in which they would find refuge, it is however a general preference they have when it comes to habitat.

Social Organization

Sable antelope, like almost all herbivores, organize themselves into herds, with the average size of these herds ranging between 10 and 30 individual calves and females, all led by a single bull or male sable. Young or out casted male also form herds on their own, whether it be for protection, company or for better survival. These herds are called bachelor groups and they usually consist of as much as 12 individual males. At around 3 years of age, all the young males within a herd are exiled and they then join these bachelor groups. Females on the other hand stay within the same herd of sable for the majority of their lives, from infancy to death.

Social Behavior

The sable antelope is most active during the day time, like most herbivores, grazing and browsing amongst each other in long strips of savanna. The only real quarrels they have with one another are when males fight for supremacy within a herd. Bulls do this by both going down onto their knees, and using their long, curved horns to attack one another, a unique way of fighting that results in almost no physical harm for either contenders. A position of power also opens up when a large herd splits in two, and the new herd that is formed needs a bull to lead them. Older males, roughly over 10 years, usually become solitary males that live a nomadic life.


The male sable that forms the head of a herd mates with all the female members of the group who will then all carry his offspring. Mating is usually seasonal, to ensure calves are born in the rainy season and have a better chance at surviving the ongoing battle of Africa. Individual sables only start mating after they have reached sexual maturity, when they are 2 – 3 years of age. Their gestation period or pregnancy period is around 9 months, as with humans. A female will usually give birth to only 1 calf at a time, and will continue to produce milk as the calf’s primary source of nutrients until the calf is 8 months old.

Anti-Predator Behavior

Spotted hyenas, leopards, crocodiles, lions and even packs of hunting dogs are the sable’s main predators, those that definitely ruin a nice sunshine day for them. Unlike other antelope species the sable isn’t afraid to fight back in some cases, sometimes even mildly or fatally injuring its attacker, especially smaller predators such a single hyena or hunting dog, or a jackal pestering a herd, trying his luck at the calves for a feast. Their long, rounded horns serve them well when predators come knocking, with the sharp tip at the back penetrating the soft tissue of some predators whose over confidence or desperation and hunger have cost them their lives.

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