Africa, Asia, and Middle East


Savanna, woodlands, marshes and swamps, rain forests, steppes, and desert

What IS an antelope?

The word antelope has been used to describe a wide variety of horned mammals in the Family Bovidae. There are even some species within the Bovidae family that are known as goat-antelope! For the purposes of this fact sheet, we’ll focus on some of the species in the Antilopinae subfamily, animals commonly called antelope as well as those such as impalas, gazelles, and gnu or wildebeest. Be sure to see Goats & Sheep, Oryx, and Nile Lechwe to read about other Antilopinae subfamily members.

It’s all about horns…

All antelope have horns; in some species they are only found on the males, whereas in others, such as gazelles, both males and females have them. The horns are made of a bony core encased in a hard material made largely of keratin (the same substance our fingernails are made of!). Horns are permanently attached, unlike a deer’s antlers, which are shed each year.

Some horns, like those of the addax and blackbuck, twist in interesting spirals; others are ridged or corrugated, like those of the impala and the sable antelope; still others grow in wide curves with a sharp point on the end, like those of the gnu.

Royal antelope calves are so small, they can rest in the average person's open hand.
The dik dik’s distinctive snout is elongated and somewhat flexible.
A gerenuk’s pointed muzzle helps the graceful antelope pick the delicate leaves of acacias from among the thorns.
Desert antelope, like addaxes and Dama gazelles, do not need to drink water—they get moisture from their food.
The rabbit-size royal antelope was referred to as king of the hares, which morphed into the moniker of royal antelope. Liberians refer to it as a jackrabbit or tricky-jack, and it is revered for its speed and nimbleness.
Male impalas have a strange way of attracting females or warning off other males: they repeatedly stick their tongue out in a display known as tongue flashing.
The highest jumper in relation to body side is the klipspringer: at about 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall, this tiny antelope can jump 15 times its own height.
Rheboks have a fast gallop, up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour and are good jumpers and climbers. This is probably the reason the popular Reebok sneakers were named after them.
The springbok is the nation animal of South Africa and the name of a South African rugby team.
The gnu migration is a big tourist attraction in East Africa. More than 1 million gnu migrate through the area as they follow shifting rainy seasons for grass and water.
The duiker’s name comes from the Afrikaans/Dutch word for diver and refers to its practice of diving into tangles of shrubbery.

A wide variety of antelope have made the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park home over the years. The Zoo’s first included springbok, Indian gazelles or chinkaras, and blackbuck in the 1920s, and we’ve welcomed many births over the years. In 2011, the Zoo was the first facility in the world to welcome a royal antelope calf. Today, you can see various duikers, bontebok, gazelles, gerenuks, dik diks, klipspringer, and royal antelope exhibited around the Zoo.

The Safari Park opened to the public in 1972, but we started moving animals into its expansive field enclosures two years earlier. Among its first residents were sable antelope and gemsbok. Today, our field enclosures are perfect for viewing large herds of gazelles, blackbuck, springbok, impalas, lechwes, kob, waterbuck, sable and roan antelope, blesbok, bontebok, white-bearded gnu, and addaxes, all going about their business very much like they would in the wild. And the Safari Park has had great breeding success with saigas and addra gazelle, species we’ve since reintroduced back into their native habitat. A guided tour on the Park’s Africa Tram provides a wonderful view of these interesting animals.

Read blog posts from our keepers about a genetics study on Soemmerring’s gazelles, why we ear notch our antelope, and why ungulates seem to be the underdogs of the zoo world.

One major threat to virtually all antelope is hunting, for both horns and meat. However, culture and human attitudes toward these animals vary. For example, in Sierra Leone, the royal antelope Neotragus pygmaeus is rarely shot, but it can get caught in snares set for duikers and other hoofed animals. In Liberia, where it is regarded as cunning, there are widespread taboos on the hunting or eating of the royal antelope among the country’s ethnic groups. In contrast, the royal antelope makes up a significant part of the bushmeat trade in Côte d’Ivoire.

Saigas Saiga tatarica, addaxes Addax nasommaculatus, dama gazelles Nanger dama, Hunter's antelope Beatragus hunteri, and Aders' duikers Cephalophus adsersi are at critical risk, and several other antelope species are endangered.

Saiga saga
Saigas are poached for their horns, which are highly valued in traditional Asian folk remedies. As with rhino horn, the demand far outpaces the supply, driving prices up and making poaching seem worth the risk. The impact has been jaw dropping: in 1994, there were about 1,350,000 saigas in Russia; today, there are a mere 65,000, with very few males, since poachers, who are mainly interested in the horns, take only the males.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park had a breeding herd of saigas, with over 100 calves born, setting a record among zoos. That experience was put to use to help the struggling wild populations. San Diego Zoo Global currently provides funding and expertise to saiga conservation efforts at the Center for Wild Animals and the Stepnoi Reserve in Russia. Some of the saigas born at the Center have been released into the Reserve, where they are watched over by trained rangers.

To help the rangers help the saigas, we provide funds for vehicles, spotting scopes, and gasoline, so the rangers can effectively patrol the Reserve to watch the health of the herds and address the poaching problem. To combat poaching, young male saigas born at the Center have their horns removed before release, and efforts are being made to inform the local people about the saigas’ plight. Education is a key component of the conservation efforts, and a Visitor’s Center now hosts programs about saigas for schoolchildren.

You can help us bring antelope species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.