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Antelope – What makes Kruger run

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

This blog was written by Bushwise student Reuben Genders, as part of his Professional Field Guide course. All research was compiled by Reuben. 

4 min read

Kruger National Park is a massive park – one of the biggest in Africa and one of the most famous ones. This is due to the vast amount of wildlife in the park with biodiversity like no other place on Earth. One type of animal that is a massive presence is antelope. 

Types of antelope found in Kruger National Park

An African waterbuck with impressive horns makes its way across a dirt road in Kruger National Park.

There are estimated to be 21 antelope species in Kruger – including:

  1. Kudu

  2. Impala

  3. Wildebeest

  4. Eland

  5. Sable 

  6. Waterbuck

  7. Tsessebe

All found in the different habitats of Kruger, all playing a role in the balance of the biodiversity.

What makes antelopes unique?

Antelopes are known for their curving horns and beautiful coats. They are agile and fast creatures with an acute sense of smell and sound. They are often found in small herds, although some species – like impala – can have herds that reach over a hundred antelope. As grazers and browsers, antelope are the gardeners of the park keeping the park’s terrain in check through their feeding patterns.

An antelope that contributes the most to Kruger and is the favourite meal of many carnivores is the impala. The impala – also known as the “happy meal of the bush” because of the black M on its rear – is easily the most common large animal in the park. Its adaptation to the lowveld is second to none and there are over 13,000 adult impalas in Kruger. Impalas are found in two herds: a breeding herd is a harem which consists of ewes, lambs and one ram; and a bachelor herd which consists of rams only. 

An impala looks playfully towards the camera, it is in its family herd also called a harem.

Impalas raise the hair on their body to trap air close to their skin. This helps insulate their body heat which keeps them warm in cold environments. Impalas also have black glands called metatarsal glands on their ankles that are unique to the species. Its actual function is still under debate, but it is believed that when impalas are dispersed the gland gives off a scent that helps the herd regroup.

My favourite antelope…

My favourite antelope found in Kruger is the nyala. They are often found in the thicket in small herds. There is great sexual dimorphism (meaning visual distinction between sexes) between male and female nyalas. Females are chestnut in colour with white stripes along their back and males have a brilliant grey coat with many white markings and yellow legs that look like socks. Nyalas are the friendliest of antelope, and it is believed in some cultures that nyalas were humans in past lives.

When people think of antelope in Kruger, one of the first to pop up is the kudu. They are majestic antelopes that always catch your eye. Known as the grey ghost of the bush, kudu are extremely athletic and can jump up to 3.5 metres up in the air. The males typically have spectacular, spiralling horns that reach sizes of up to 1.8 metres long. They are the second largest antelope in southern Africa and tend to live in groups of half a dozen in the thickets.

A Greater Kudu female with impressively large ears, found in the Kruger National Park.

The largest antelope you will find in Kruger is the eland. They are grey in colour with small, twisted horns and can weigh up to 800kg. Despite their size, they are athletic jumpers and can easily clear fences of 2 metres. It is rare to see an eland in the park as there are only 300 in the whole park.

Antelope play a vital role in the Kruger National Park as the main food source for most large carnivores in the reserve such as the big cats and wild dogs. Without antelope, there would be no wild dogs, lions, cheetah or leopards in Kruger National Park. They are animals that often get overlooked in favour of the Big 5. 

However, if people stopped and watched these animals, they would notice how amazing and elegant they are, and how perfectly adapted they are to their environment. So next time you go to Kruger and get upset that you only saw antelope, be grateful that those antelope were there and enjoy the experience.

Antelopes come in all shapes and sizes – so do field guides. Are you interested in making the wilderness your classroom? Join a Bushwise course and you can!

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