Antelope in Zambia


The elusive bushbuck with its striped back and spotted flanks are one of the prettier antelope, but being solitary and preferring to inhabit areas of dense cover, they are not seen very often and if one does, they scurry away quickly. They browse on foliage and fruit and sometimes remain for hours beneath certain flowering trees, especially the sausage tree (Kigelia africana).


Three kinds of duiker occur in Zambia. The Yellow-backed Duiker is the largest of the three with backward directed horns in line with their nose profile. A dark brown coat with a conspicuous yellow patch on the lower back and rump, the hairs upon which rise when alarmed. They move alone in dense thickets and forests. This antelope is very rarely seen as it is mainly nocturnal. The Blue Duiker also has backward pointing horns but is much smaller and greyish brown in colour. They browse on leaves and small fruit and are also rarely seen. The Common Duiker is usually seen on the move in the early morning or evening in scrub country or in woodland. It hides during the heat of the day in patches of thick vegetation. It has a very characteristic way of running in a zig zag fashion interspersed by plunging leaps.


Eland are graceful animals, with their large pendulous dewlap and pale fawn colour. The largest of the antelope found in Zambia, the eland can weigh up to 680 kg. Their weight however, does not hamper them from jumping, virtually from a standing position to a height of more than two meters (7 ft). Both sexes have horns in a short outward an upward twist, which are important for feeding. To collect twigs they grasp them between the stalks, breaking them loose with a shake of their head and powerful neck. A shy animal that runs at the slightest disturbance,  perhaps because they have always been hunted in Africa, especially by the San tribe, who worshipped them, eating them as Catholics do communion. They move in medium sized herds and old bulls tend to be solitary.


The most numerous animal in the bigger National Parks, impalas are gregarious moving in large herds. They are mixed feeders and eat mainly grass in the wet season and leaves as the dry season progresses. They can also be found eating the fallen red fleshly flowers of the sausage tree. During the rutting period the males are very noisy emitting loud grunting sounds whilst they fight and display, in the process of sorting out their hierarchy, terminating in the dominant male taking over a harem of twenty or more ewes. They have a well defined lambing season starting at the end of October and in the following weeks, nearly every ewe is seen with a baby. Impala have an unusual tuft of black hair covering a scent gland on the hind legs, above the hooves. To escape their pursuers they employ a confusing, zig zag escape route, with sudden directional changes and exceptionally high leaps making it difficult for the pursuing attacker to strike.


Living on rocky outcrops and on mountan sides, these small antelope with short pointy horns occur sparsely in the Muchinga escarpment of the Luangwa Valley and occasionally in the north of the country. It bounces on the tips of its rubbery hooves as it walks, making it’s very long legs look even longer. Unlike the coat of other African antelope, their olive-yellow coat speckled with grey is stiff and brittle serving as a cushion to ward off the shocks of hitting rock walls as they jump. They browse on herbs and shrubs and drink water when it is available but can draw enough water from their food.


A very beautiful antelope with long twisting spiralled horns displayed by the males. They are usually seen in small groups and occasionally males can be solitary or in bachelor parties. They are purely browsers and not known to eat grass. Being very fond of the evergreen Trichelia emetica, where these trees occur, there is a very distinct ‘browse line’ as if they’ve been pruned by clippers. Despite their impressive weight they can easily clear 2 meters (7ft) when jumping. Their acute hearing is accentuated by an ability to turn their large rounded ears in almost any direction.


Found in the northern parts of the country in small numbers, this light fawn coloured antelope prefers miombo woodland habitats and feeds exclusively on grass. It can sometimes be seen on the floodplains towards the end of the dry season seeking new pastures


A semi-aquatic antelope often moving in very large herds of several hundred. They graze knee-deep on the flood plain grasses. They have long thin horns going backwards and upwards. There are three kinds of lechwe found in Zambia.

The Black Lechwe is the darkest of the three, with has rich blackish brown coat and is found only in the Bangweulu swamps.

The Kafue Lechwe has larger and longer horns than the other two species with dark shoulder patches and a light brown coat. It is found in the floodplains of Lochinvar.

The Red Lechwe found in the Busanga area of Kafue National Park is yellowish-red in colour and dark-brown markings on the legs.


Found occasionally in the Luangwa Valley, more often in the Bangweulu Swamps and quite common in Kafue and Lochinvar National Parks. They are distinguished by the bare black glandular patches below their large oval shaped ears. They like to graze on open plains and dambos and have a characteristic ‘stotting’ action when alarmed, jumping into the air with all four legs held stiff and straight. Some experts believe this may be done to give them a better view of approaching predators but it is more likely they are trying to entice the predator to chase and so divert attention from the herd.


Plentiful in Luangwa and Zambezi Valley, these furry orange antelope with thick, heavily ringed V shaped horns, are gregarious and graze along the floodplains near permanent water.

They have limited distribution in Africa, confined to the area drained by the Zambezi and its tributaries and a few isolated pockets in Tanzania. They move in herds of up to thirty or so.


Common in Kafue but scarce in the other parks, the reedbuck is a gregarious animal moving in family groups of three to five. They are found in dambos and other open grassy areas. They have a characteristic ‘rocking horse’ action ; the tail is turned up to expose the white ventral surface, and they whistle at each jump forward.


Common in Luangwa but scarce in the other Parks, roan are a large light brown antelope with ringed horns, rising upwards and backwards in a small arch. They move in herds but bulls may be solitary, staying near dambos, light woodland and open plains.


The most handsome of the antelopes, with a deep brown coat and long backward arching horns. Adult males have a deep glossy black coat and with the pronounced curve of their long horns are a very striking animals. They are fairly common in Kafue but scarce in the other parks.


A tiny solitary antelope with short pointy horns only 3-5cm long. It favours thickets and feeds on the leaves of low growing shrubs. Not often seen due to its shy and nocturnal habits. Distinguished from the duiker of the same size in that it runs smoothly not in zig zag, with body and head held low. Often seen on night drives in the South Luangwa National Park.


This small antelope with straight upward pointing horns and a lush rufous coat can be seen in light woodland where it browses and grazes. It often eludes it’s predators by darting down old burrows.


A beautiful reddish brown animal with twisted backward pointing horns, faint white strips on the back and white spots on the flanks and cheeks.

A true aquatic antelope found only in swamp grasses having specially adapted long pointy hooves to support them on marshy soil. Found in the Busanga area of Kafue National Park, the floodplains of Lochinvar and Kasanka.


The fastest of the antelope, Tsessebe are found only in the Bangweulu Swamp region. These rare antelope have a smooth reddish brown coat with a light fawn belly and a tasselled tail. They graze on open plains.


The waterbuck has a long-haired, often shaggy brown-gray coat that emits a smelly, greasy secretion thought to be for waterproofing. They have pronounced U shape horns.

Two subspecies of waterbuck occur in Zambia. In the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi Vallies they are distinguished by the white ring on their rump (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) whereas those in the Kafue have a solid white patch on the rump.(Kobus defassa).

They move in fairly big herds near dambos and on aquatic grassland but always close to woodland or thicket. Hyenas, lions, and leopards are the major predators, but crocodiles, hunting dogs and cheetahs also take waterbuck.


Cookson’s Wildebeest occurs in the northern part of Luangwa Valley and the Blue Wildebeest in the Western Province.

In November every year, enormous herds migrate across the Luiwa plains.

Their young are born a reddish-brown and can stand within minutes of birth. They take on their mature colour after two months. They move in large herds headed by one to three bulls that trot around the group in their peculiar, head high, rocking gait, forcing the herd into a tight mass.