Species Survival Plan
Forest and grasslands
Young - lion, leopard and hyena
Adults - lion
Grasses, herbs and foliage
Originally Native To
54 inches at shoulder
Antelope with dark coloration, white facial markings; 18 - 60 inch curving horns on both sexes; upstanding mane
January - March
Wild 15 years
Captivity 18 years
Territorial bull, gregarious herd of 15 - 25 females and young, bachelor herds of 10 - 25
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.
Calves are born reddish-brown with virtually no markings. As they age, the white markings appear and the rest of the coat gets darker - the older the animal, the more striking the contrast.
These pronounced color differences make the sable antelope one of the most sexually dimorphic species in the bovid family. However, south of the Zambezi River, females of the H. niger niger (“black black”) subspecies also turn very dark.
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.
Both males and females boast impressive ringed horns that rise vertically and curve backward. When they arch their necks and stand with their heads held high and tails outstretched, they resemble horses.
This flexed-neck position makes sable appear larger than they really are. The males maintain this position even when they gallop, as the arched neck is an important manifestation of dominance.
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.
Males with the best territories have the best mating success. The herds have home ranges that encompass several male territories. Once a female group wanders into a male's territory, he tries to keep her there, especially if any females are in heat.
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.
Closely associated with the broad-leaved deciduous woodlands called "miombo," the sable is an “edge” species that favors the ecotone between wooded savanna and grassland. It is a grazer and a browser; during the rainy season, it forages the grasses, forbs, and foliage of woodlands. When possible, sable prefer to eat grass.
In the dry season, it emerges onto grasslands where it concentrates on flushes of green herbage after annual fires sweep the countryside. It is water-dependent and visits pools and pans daily in the dry season, as well as mineral licks to gain salt and trace elements that are in short supply in the ancient, leached granitic soils of the African inland plateau.
There is a genus of antelope, Hippotragus, which includes three species – sable, roan, and bluebuck. Roan also live at Fossil Rim, but in a different pasture. Believed to have gone extinct in 1800, the bluebuck is the first historically recorded large African mammal to become extinct.
At Fossil Rim, sable live in the Main Pasture - the third pasture that guests enter. Sable are the dominant species in their Fossil Rim pasture, just as roan are the dominant species in the pasture where they reside.
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