Scientific Name

Hippotragus niger

Species Survival Plan



Forest and grasslands


Young - lion, leopard and hyena
Adults - lion


Grasses, herbs and foliage

Originally Native To

Southern Africa


54 inches at shoulder


500 lb.


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

Gestation Period

8 months


1 calf

Birth Season

January - March


Wild 15 years
Captivity 18 years

Social Behavior

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


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.

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.


  • Common Waterbuck

    Waterbuck are found in southeastern, central and western Africa. When exposed to a high level of human activity, they will become almost completely nocturnal, only...

    Read More
  • Southern White Rhinoceros

    Poaching remains the greatest threat to the white rhinoceros. Its horn is used in Asia for traditional medicines and, more recently, as a status symbol...

    Read More
  • Southern Black Rhinoceros

    Fossil Rim participates in the International Rhino Foundation’s Southern Black Rhino Sustainability Program, which is a coordinated international effort to establish and maintain a viable...

    Read More
  • Roan

    Roan, the fourth-largest antelopes in Africa, are usually active in the morning, late afternoon and evening. The roan is associated with woodland savannas, but is...

    Read More
  • Ostrich

    The ostrich is the world’s largest living bird. Its weight, small wings and weak wing muscles combine to make it flightless. Ostriches use their wings...

    Read More
  • Mountain Bongo

    The bongo, a striking coppery red antelope with white stripes, is shy and elusive. Most active at dusk and dawn, they will emerge at night...

    Read More
  • Grevy’s Zebra

    This zebra is named for Jules Grevy, a French president who received one from the king of Ethiopia as a gift in the 1880s. It...

    Read More
  • Greater Kudu

    Very large antelopes, the male kudu have thick, spiraled horns that can reach six feet in length. Sexually dimorphic, only the males have horns and...

    Read More
  • Giraffe

    Giraffes are the tallest living land mammals, and although it looks like their hind legs are shorter, all four legs are almost the same length....

    Read More
  • Gemsbok

    The gemsbok is the largest and best known of the four species of oryx, or straight-horned antelope. It is one of the best desert-adapted large...

    Read More
  • Common Wildebeest

    Because these silvery gray antelopes with cow-like horns can sometimes, in the right light, look blue, they are referred to as the blue wildebeest....

    Read More
  • Cheetah

    The sleek cheetah is built for speed and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in seconds. However, it can run only 600 yards before it is...

    Read More
  • Black-Footed Cat

    The black-footed cat, or small-spotted cat, is one of the smallest cat species in the world. Weighing in at 2-5 pounds and measuring 14-20 inches...

    Read More
  • Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra

    One of the most significant differences between mountain zebras and the plains species is that plains zebras have 44 chromosomes and the mountain zebras have...

    Read More


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.