Species Survival Plan
Man, lions, leopards, Cape hunting dogs, Nile crocodiles
Aquatic grasses, floodplain vegetation
Originally Native To
Republic of South Sudan, Ethiopia
Male 42 inches at shoulder
Female 34 inches at shoulder
Male 260 lb.
Female 200 lb.
Males brownish-black with heavily ridged, lyre-shaped horns and large white patch on shoulders; females are golden brown; both have widely splayed, elongated hooves and greasy, water-repellent coat with hindquarters positioned higher than shoulders
November – January
Herds of 50 – 100+, depending on space available; both males and females are social. In captivity, usually large harem groups with one adult male, numerous females, and their offspring, as well as bachelor groups.
ABOUT THE NILE LECHWE
The lechwe (LETCH-way) ranks second only to the nyala among the most aquatic African antelope – even ahead of waterbuck, another resident Fossil Rim species closely related to the lechwe. The Nile lechwe is one of two lechwe species with the red lechwe being the other.
Fossil Rim’s European red deer herd is getting older and is nonreproductive, so one of the goals with the lechwe addition is to have them take the place of red deer as one of the prime herds in the Game Preserve (fourth pasture you enter). While red deer face no conservation issues, Nile lechwe are endangered with a decreasing population trend.
In the wild, Nile lechwe live on the Nile River floodplain bordering Al-Sudd swamp in the Republic of South Sudan, which is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. Others live in western Ethiopia.
Nile lechwe are a sexually dimorphic species, similar to the blackbuck of Fossil Rim. While females are golden brown like males at birth, the bulls turn brownish-black with age and only males have horns, which are heavily ridged and lyre-shaped. This difference in male and female appearance is much more extreme than the difference among the genders of red lechwe.
Even though their large horns can be used as weapons, male Nile lechwe often use them as a back scratcher. Bulls have a large white patch, or “saddle,” on their shoulders. Male Nile lechwe are 20 percent larger than the females.
The hindquarters of the lechwe are positioned higher than their shoulders. Lechwe have widely splayed, elongated hooves that support them on muddy ground and while swimming.
Like waterbuck, Nile lechwe have a greasy, water-repellent coat and are excellent swimmers. Male Nile lechwe sometimes go into the water to fight, often submerging their locked heads.
In the wild, Nile lechwe also enter water to feed on aquatic grasses, an abundant resource underutilized by most other herbivores. They also graze the grasses that spring up as floodwaters recede. Literally an “edge” species, on the widest, flattest floodplains, herds of lechwe migrate as the water rises and falls with the rainy and dry seasons.
People familiar with Fossil Rim may have only heard the term “lek” as it relates to Attwater’s prairie chickens and their native range of tall-grass coastal prairies in Texas. However, in the wild, the lechwe is one of three antelope species – along with kob and topi – known to form leks, which are breeding grounds with a high-population density.
Females and young stay closest to the water, since lechwe are clumsy runners on dry land and will flee into the water to escape predators – much like waterbuck. Most males are only territorial during the annual mating peak, which is early in the rainy season. Dozens of males congregate to display for approaching females, but since lechwe migrate according to water level, the leks are only temporary.
Both male and female Nile lechwe are social, so herd size can grow very large to hundreds of individuals.
Nile lechwe, like many other antelope species, produce vocalizations. Females often make a noise sounding like the combination of a frog's croak and a pig's snort. They also make a call directed just to their calf, and the calf has a special call it uses to respond. Males produce a call somewhat like the female vocalization but with a bit more “snort” to it. This vocalization is often directed at other males during social interactions.
Since the 1980s, the people Nile lechwe share their habitat with have been in a state of turmoil. Cultural instability, the increasing use of firearms, and increasing cattle encroachment have all harmed Nile lechwe.
The most threatening factor is a hydroelectric dam built south of their native floodplains in Sudan. It will likely disturb the seasonal flooding Nile lechwe and many other species rely on.
When looking for Nile lechwe at Fossil Rim, they will be naturally inclined to seek out all water sources, so definitely scan for them anytime water is near. Nile lechwe was one of the species the Ungulate Taxon Advisory Group was looking for more facilities to get involved with in 2019. When some became available, Fossil Rim decided to add the species to the aforementioned Game Preserve.
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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.