Hippotragus niger (Harris, 1838)
Photo: Doug Lee
| ||French:||Hippotraguae noir|
IUCN Conservation Status:
- the southern sable LR/cd = Lower Risk, conservation dependent
- the Zambian sable VU = Vulnerable
- the giant sable CR/en = Critically endangered
- the eastern sable EN = Endangered.
|Superorder:||CETARTIODACTYLA (Even toed)|
|Family:||Bovidae (Hoofed, antlered)|
Four subspecies are recognized:
- H.n. niger the southern sable antelope found in southern Africa and eastern Africa as far north as southern Kenya
- H.n. variani the giant or royal sable of central Angola
- H n. kirkii the Zambian sable antelope of central Angola and western Zambia
- H.n.roosevelti the eastern sable antelope of Kenya
Genetic studies by Terry Robinson in the 1980s do not provide
conclusive evidence of the sub-speciation of sable to the south of
Kenya. Doubt also exists as to whether there is genetic differentiation
between the northern form of the southern sable, found to the north of
the Zambezi River, and the southern form, found south of the Zambezi
River. At present both forms are still recognised as Hippotragus niger
Giant Sable: The most
notable of the sable subspecies is the giant sable, also known in
Portuguese as the “Palanca Negra”. It is endemic to the Angolan
peneplane and the adjacent ancient African plateau in central Angola
between the Cuango and Luando rivers. This area includes the Luando
Integral Nature Reserve and the Cangandala National Park. The habitat
of the giant sable consists mainly of flat or gently undulating
ecotones with open Brachystegia woodland and intersected edaphic
grassland on sandy, acid soils where the annual rainfall exceeds 1 200
mm. It also includes extensive seasonal floodplains along the Luando
and Cuanza rivers. It is the largest of the sable subspecies and its
status has given rise to the name “royal sable”. An issue that requires
further scientific investigation is the close resemblance between the
giant and the large Zambian sable. Several populations of Zambian sable
have been introduced into private game farms causing concern over the
mixing of subspecies.
A large, dark to black
coloured antelope with an exceptionally long, upright mane along the
neck. The face is white with a black blaze from the forehead to the
nose. The belly and the hind of the buttocks is pure white. The front
feet are larger than the hind. Calves are a light red-brown and the
colour of cows ranges from a light brown to a dark chestnut-brown or
brown-black. The back and saddle of young bulls are chestnut-brown, but
turn black with age. The colour of the skin is also affected by the
concentration of copper in the diet.
Comparison To Man
The horns are up to 1.6 m
long and are carried by both sexes. The horns of cows are 40% shorter
than those of the bulls and do not reach trophy quality. The horns grow
vertically for the first third of the length and then turn backwards to
form a long curve of 85-110°. They are heavily grooved for 85% of the
length. Poor forage quality and social stress may limit horn
The habitat preference parameters are:
- abundant stands of dense, intermediate to tall grasses 45-150 cm high of both sweet and sour species
- open savannah woodland with scattered large trees and a lower stratum of moderately dense shrubland
- flat to slightly undulating topography
- well drained, sandy soil especially those derived from granite and quartzite
- clean surface drinking water for daily consumption
Open grassy plains, short
grass environments and thickets are avoided, except for adult bulls
taking refuge in thickets.
Sable are extremely susceptible to droughts with a severe, rapid
depletion of forage quality. These often result in high mortalities. As
they are intolerant of severe cold spells, it is essential that the
habitat includes patches of thicket vegetation that allow refuge
against cold and winds. However, if not confined by a lack of space or
game fencing, they may migrate away from these conditions.
Feeding & Nutrition
Sable require a constant,
high crude-protein and low crude-fibre intake. Thus they are highly
selective of specific plant parts and least selective towards plant
species. Young shoots and new growths on mature stems of intermediate
to tall perennial grasses are grazed in preference. The preferred
feeding zones are in seepage lines, areas around termite mounds and in
ecotones between woodland and adjacent grassland savannah.
The diet consists of 85%
grass, 10% woody browse and 5% broadleaf forbs. Roaming is mostly
restricted to cooler daylight hours and daily water consumption is
approximately 9 litres. Sable teeth wear rapidly especially after 10
years. Most sable that reach 13 years or older, die from starvation as
their molars are worn down to the gums and they are unable to chew.
Sable are gregarious by nature and form stable family groups of 6-40
individuals (mean 14). Family groups consist of several adult cows of
>3 years age, their young offspring of both sexes, some heifers and
usually, one dominant bull of >6 years age. The young often form a
crèche and are accompanied and guarded by 1-2 cows. Bachelor herds are
unstable and consist of 2-10 bulls aged between 3-6 years. Post mature
and non-dominant adult bulls of >10 years tend to become solitary
nomads. Territorial bulls are single during the rut but outside it,
most dominant bulls abandon their territories and join a family group.
Family groups follow a matriarchal system with a strict hierarchical
order of female dominance. Cohesion between family members is tight and
females may bond for life.
Sable antelope adapt well
to confined, manipulated, intensive production systems. In a natural
optimal habitat without supplementary feeding, the size of breeding
camps can be reduced to a minimum of 50-80 ha, while in marginal
habitats such as the Kalahari Desert, a minimum size of 200 ha is
In contrast to the roan
antelope Hippotragus equinus of the same genus, the sable antelope is
immune to anthrax. Sable are susceptible to frostbite in the marginal
habitats of the cold, frosty areas of South Africa and ear tips,
nostrils and the outer tissue of the lips can be destroyed. This does
not kill the animal but causes permanent scars that reduce the animal’s
trophy status and commercial value. In habitats such as the central
regions of the Eastern Cape Midlands where the diet lacks sufficient
trace metals such as copper, the hide coloration of sable antelope
turns a dirty yellow-white instead of being dark brown to black. This
decolouration reduces the sable’s commercial market value. The copper
problem can be overcome with a two monthly inoculation of
copper-sulphate but requires the capture, darting and physical handling
of each animal at great cost and effort.
|Southern Sable antelope information table
|Adult body weight
|Adult shoulder height
|Age of sexual maturity
|Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
|1st calf 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)
Absolute minimum number needed
Smallest viable population size
|Spatial behaviour: Home range
|Spatial behaviour: Territory range
|Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
0.6 per animal
(85% of diet)
|0.6 per animal
(85% of diet)
Dietary Ratio: (browse):
|1.45 per animal
(15% of diet)
|1.45 per animal
(15% of diet)
|Maximum stocking load
|50 animals per 1000
|Minimum habitat size required
|Annual population growth
||12-28% (mean 19%)
|Optimal annual rainfall
|Optimal vegetation structure:
Woody canopy cover:
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