Range:

Africa’s southern Sudan and western Ethiopia

Habitat:

Swamps and floodplains of the Nile River Valley

Nile what?

Most people in this part of the world have never heard of a Nile lechwe (pronounced LETCH-way or LEECH-wee). Lechwe belong to a family of African antelope known as Reduncines. Nile lechwe are native to the floodplains of the Nile River Valley. Most of the wild population lives in southern Sudan, with the remaining in western Ethiopia. The "Nile" part of their name tells you where they are from, but where in the world does the word lechwe come from? Lechwe is a Bantu word meaning antelope, a good name for the antelope calling the Nile River Valley home.

Amphibious antelope

Living in an ecosystem with seasonal flooding, Nile lechwe have adapted to become aquatic antelope. One of the most obvious physical adaptations to their watery environment is their long hooves. Compared to other antelope species that prefer dry land, Nile lechwe have long, slender hooves. These hooves help them walk or run through their swampy, muddy home. While these long hooves are helpful for moving through the water, on dry land Nile lechwe tend to look clumsy. Male Nile lechwe also go to the water to fight, often submerging their locked heads.

The Nile lechwe was originally named Mrs. Gray’s waterbuck by Dr. J. E. Gray, a curator at the British Museum, in honor of his wife.
The Shilluk people of Sudan consider Nile lechwe to be “royal.” The animals are an important part of many sacred traditions within the culture.
Even though their large horns can be used as weapons, male Nile lechwe often use them as back scratchers, reaching parts of their back female lechwes can only wish to scratch.

The San Diego Zoo acquired our first Nile lechwe in 1966, a pair of young adults. Today, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a herd of Nile lechwe in its East Africa field exhibit. View the herd from an Africa Tram, or Caravan Safari, or Cart Safari tour.

The current number of Nile lechwe in the wild is unknown and the species is endangered. The last count of the wild population was in 1983. At that time the total number of individuals was between 30,000 and 40,000 animals. Since the 1980s, the people they share their habitat with have been in a state of turmoil. Cultural instability, the increasing use of firearms, and multiplying cattle encroaching have all harmed Nile lechwe. The most threatening 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.

Because of the political problems in Sudan, no field research has been done. Much of how Nile lechwe behave in the wild is unknown. Social stability is crucial for the people living in this beautiful country and for the creatures that inhabit it.

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