Wildlife Species of the Week

HARTEBEEST (Alcelaphus buselaphus)

The hartebeest is a large, fawn-colored antelope. Their most distinctive characteristics are a steeply sloping back, long legs, and elongated snout. Despite their ungainly appearance, they are as elegant, if not more than, other antelopes. They are one of the fastest antelopes and most enduring runners — capable of reaching speeds of up to 70 km/h. These qualities gave rise to their name, which means “tough ox.”

Hartebeest formerly ranged from North Africa and the Middle East through the savannas and grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa and south-central Africa down to the southern Africa tip.  But now their range has been drastically reduced and primarily exists only in sub-Saharan Africa. These antelopes are mainly found in medium and tall grasslands, including savannas.

They are quite social animals and live in organized herds of up to 300 animals — they also have been known to aggregate in groups of up to 10,000 animals. Hartebeest are active mainly during the day; they graze in the early morning and late afternoon and rest in shade around noon.

These large antelopes feed almost entirely on grass and are not very selective and quite tolerant of poor-quality food. They have suffered from the expansion of cattle raising, forcing them to compete for the same food. As human populations are growing and cattle raising expands, hartebeests have found themselves competing for the grasses they love to eat.

Hartebeest were formerly widespread in Africa, but populations of this species have undergone drastic decline due to habitat destruction, hunting, human settlement, and competition with livestock for food. They are also popular game animals due to their highly regarded meat. Currently, hartebeest are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but their numbers today are decreasing.