Sable

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name

Hippotragus niger

Species Survival Plan

Yes

Habitat

Forest and grasslands

Predators

Young - lion, leopard and hyena
Adults - lion

Food

Grasses, herbs and foliage

Originally Native To

Southern Africa

Height

54 inches at shoulder

Weight

500 lb.

Characteristics

Antelope with dark coloration, white facial markings; 18 - 60 inch curving horns on both sexes; upstanding mane

Gestation Period

8 months

Offspring

1 calf

Birth Season

January - March

Lifespan

Wild 15 years
Captivity 18 years

Social Behavior

Territorial bull, gregarious herd of 15 - 25 females and young, bachelor herds of 10 - 25

iucn_badge_least_concern

About Sable

The sable antelope gets its name from the Russian word for “black.” Its coat is short and glossy for females and young sable. Their coloration is a rich chestnut with white facial markings and white on the belly and rump. For males, the brown coat is replaced with black beginning at three years of age.

Most herds consist of 15-25 females and young, but groups of 30-75 are not uncommon. The herd rests in an outward-facing circle to watch for danger while the young lie protected at the center.

A sable antelope will defend itself against lions by attacking with its horns and sharp-pointed hooves. A female sable is very aggressive and, as a result, there is a female hierarchy system based on seniority.

Young bulls begin to be harassed by territorial bulls at about 18 months of age, but usually manage to stay with the females until their coat darkens. Then, they join bachelor herds composed of 10-25 males ranging in age from 3-5 years.

A bachelor herd is an important unit in the social structure because it affords protection to young males until such time as they are ready to challenge for territories. Fights between sable are mainly a display of supremacy, very seldom causing any bodily harm.

Bulls stake out 3.5-square-mile territories during the rut by breaking off branches of trees and brush with their horns. In the wild, the dominance of bulls that have held territories for years impresses younger bulls. Young bulls will not take an older bull’s territory, even after winning the challenge, if the bull has held his territory for several years.

Bulls accompany herds routinely to urine test all females to determine their reproductive status. Males tend to raise their heads, open their mouths and retract the upper lip as part of the testing procedure. This is called exhibiting flehmen.

Gestation lasts eight months, and females seek seclusion before calving. They remain alone for a week or more before rejoining the herd.

The calf conceals itself in a thicket or dense grass stand. The mother returns twice a day to nurse the calf, which approaches her and then finds a new hiding place in order not to leave a scent trail which predators could follow.

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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.