Alcelaphus buselaphus caama (Pallas, 1766)
Photo: Doug Lee
IUCN Conservation Status:
• Red hartebeest, Coke’s hartebeest, lelwel hartebeest, Lichtenstein’s
hartebeest, western hartebeest: = Lower Risk, conservation dependent
• Swayne’s hartebeest, tora hartebeest: = Endangered (EN).
• bubal hartebeest: = Extinct (EX) by 1925. Fastest antelope in Africa, up to 75 km/hr, that outruns most predator
attacks. Its hides were the most favoured item of trade with the rural
Khoi people during early colonial times in the Cape. It was the last of
the larger mammals to survive roaming free in the Transkei region and
disappeared late in the 1860s. The name hartebeest is derived from the
Dutch word “hart” meaning endurance and was given to the animal by
early European settlers.
The Alcelaphinae is
endemic to Africa and evolved late in historic times between 5-4,5 mil
years BP. In terms of evolutionary development, diversification of this
subfamily was rapid and by 2 million years BP had given rise to eight
genera and 15 species. The hartebeest-like antelope are currently
divided into three genera
• Alcelaphus the true hartebeest species
• Beatragus Hunter’s hartebeest, also known as the hirola
• Damaliscus consisting of the tsessebe, topi, tiang and korrigum.
Blesbok and bontebok are also included in this genus although they are
not regarded as being hartebeest.
The true hartebeests consist of two species and seven subspecies:
Alcelaphus buselaphus and the bubal hartebeest of Morocco and Algeria. These were extinct between 1923-25
• A.b. cokei Coke’s hartebeest of Tanzania and Kenya
• A.b. major the western hartebeest of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad
• A.b. lelwe the lelwel hartebeest from Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Chad and the Central African Republic
• A.b. tora the tora hartebeest found along the Blue Nile and in Ethiopia
• A.b. swaynei Swayne’s hartebeest of Somalia and Ethiopia
• A.b. caama the red hartebeest from South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Namibia
• A. lichtensteinii (formerly Sigmocerus lichtensteinii)
Lichtenstein’s hartebeest of Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola and the northern lowveld of South Africa.
An additional two extant hartebeest forms known as Newman’s hartebeest
and the Kenyan highland hartebeest are hybrids not yet recognised as
subspecies. Newman’s hartebeest is a cross between Swayne’s hartebeest
and the lelwel hartebeest and is found in the distribution overlap of
the two subspecies. Similarly, the Kenyan highland hartebeest is a
cross between Coke’s hartebeest and the lelwel hartebeest.
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A semi-large antelope
resembling something between a cattle and a buck, with high standing
front quarters and much lower hind quarters. The face and the frontal
bone of the skull are abnormally elongated compared to other African
antelope. The head and neck are normally held high while not grazing.
Body colour vary from yellowish-grey to dark brown. The neck, shoulders
and fore part of the back is darker than the rest of the body, and the
buttocks a light cream-brown, and an almost black, blaze on the
forehead and muzzle. The shoulders and the front of the upper legs may
turn dark in adults. The underside is a faded cream-white.
Comparison To Man
Both sexes bear
well-developed horns although those of the bulls are distinctly thicker
than those of the cows. They are situated on a pedicle that is raised
high above the forehead giving the face a long appearance. When viewed
from the front the horns are V-shaped, but from the side are
lyre-shaped. They are heavily grooved from the base but the tips are
smooth. With post-adult ageing, the grooves on the anterior side
weather and become smooth and the horn ends wear away, shortening their
length. The best trophy status is found with bulls between 8-11 years.
The horn shape differs significantly between the different hartebeest
subspecies. Extant hartebeest hybrids are not recognised for trophy
Suitable habitat varies
from arid desert-like sandveld, rainfall less than 250 mm/year, to
karroid succulent veld, savannah woodland and montane grassland
Highveld, rainfall 900 mm. Red hartebeest adapt well to temperate
coastal regions, to the cold snaps of highland winters of the Free
State and the Eastern Cape and to hot, arid environments. The most
essential parameter is a wide diversity of grass species with an
intermediate height of 12-35 cm. Both sweetveld and mixedveld habitats
are optimal but sourveld is marginal to unsuitable. Most preferred is
an annual rainfall of 300-450 mm with open woodland and mixedveld
savannah, predominantly found on foot slopes of mountains and in plains
with low undulating hills. Open grass areas in woodland, floodplains,
the fringes of marshlands and semi-deserts are all suitable, but closed
woodland, thickets, riverine bush and forests are avoided. Red
hartebeest are predominantly crawlers that climb underneath fences.
Feeding & Nutrition
intermediate height, mixed grass, partly selective, grazer. Specific
plant parts are selected rather than plant species. The dietary intake
consists of 55-75% grass and broad-leaved forbs and 25-45% browse,
fruit, pods and seeds. Most feeding occur in cooler daylight hours. It
is one of the first game animals to loose body condition when forage
quality deteriorates. They do not require daily drinking water and can
survive without for several days. The average consumption is 5.5
Territory & Home range
Adult bulls become
territorial during the rut. A territory varies in size from 10-30 ha
and is aggressively defended against intruder bulls. When fighting each
other, bulls drop down on their knees and attack vigorously with their
horns. After the mating season they either join small bachelor herds or
join large unstable, mixed herds that are without a strict hierarchical
order of dominance. Mixed herds and family breeding herds are nomadic
and migrate when environmental and veld conditions deteriorate. The
temporary home range of herds between migrations varies from 2 000-10
000 ha depending on the forage quality and availability. Red hartebeest
are known to move long distances and frequently cross entire fenced
Red hartebeest are
socially gregarious and generally form small herds of 20-30
individuals. In areas with adequate grazing and constant optimal
habitat features, permanent mixed herds of up to 400 individuals may be
established. During the rut several smaller family breeding herds form
within the large herd resulting in a loose, unstable structure. In the
past, when veld conditions deteriorated and forage became restricted,
temporary mass herds of up to 10 000 red hartebeest formed at the onset
of vast migrations.
The social structure consists of:
• family groups – several cows, heifers and offspring of both sexes
• mixed groups – non-lactating cows, subadult females, a dominant bull and several young bulls
• Bachelor herds – several bulls older than two years including post-mature adult bulls
• Solitary bulls – single, territorial bulls.
Red hartebeest are intolerant to high levels of parasite and tick infections, and susceptive to both redwater and hardwater.
|Red Hartebeest information table
|Adult body weight:
|Adult shoulder height:
|Age of sexual maturity
|Age of social adulthood (1st
|1st lamb born at
|Post maturity age (last mating)
|Gender ratio: natural (all ages)
|Gender ratio: production (all ages)
|Mating ratio: natural (adults)
|Mating ratio: production (adults)
|Re-establishment: absolute minimum number needed
|Re-establishment: smallest viable population size
|Spatial behaviour: home range
|Spatial behaviour: territory range
|Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
(80% of diet)
(80% of diet)
|Browsing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio: (browse):
(20% of diet)
(20% of diet)
|Maximum stocking load
|50 animals per 1000 ha
(at 300-350 mm annual rainfall)
|Minimum habitat size required
|Annual population growth
|20-32% (mean 23%)
|Optimal annual rainfall
|Optimal vegetation structure:
Woody canopy cover:
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