The name 'antelope' is given to a large group of hoofed mammals with hollow horns, the same group as cattle, goats and sheep.

Antelopes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colours.

Some are very small, such as the dik-dik or the royal antelope in Africa, which is about 25 cm high at the shoulder. The largest is the eland (say ee-land), also found in Africa, standing at about 1.8 m high at the shoulder and weighing over 650 kg.

Habitat and Distribution (where they are found)

About 72 different species, or kinds, of antelope are found in Africa, and a few kinds are found in Asia. No antelopes are native to Australia or New Zealand. The pronghorn in North America is not actually an antelope, although many think it is.

Antelopes live in a variety of habitats. Most , such as eland and kudu, live on grasslands. Others live:

  • on mountains, for example, the klipspringer;
  • in wetlands, for example, the waterbuck;
  • in deserts, for example, the addax and oryx.


A male greater kudu. Female greater kudus do not have horns

A male greater kudu. Female greater kudus do not have horns

All the different kinds of antelope have horns. In some kinds of antelope, only the males have horns. In some kinds of antelope both the males and females have horns.

Antelope horns come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes.

They can be spiralled, twisted, curved or straight. The largest belong to the male greater kudu (say koo doo), which has horns that can grow to almost 2 metres in length. Whatever the size and shape, the horns grow around two bony stumps on the antelope's skull.

The horns are hard and hollow.They are made mostly of keratin, which is what human hair and nails are made of. The horns grow all through the antelope's life, and do not fall off. If an antelope horn breaks, generally through fighting, it does not grow back.

Antelopes use their horns for defence against predators. Males also use them when they fight other males to become important in the herd or to court a female antelope. Antelope horns are different from a deer's antlers, which are solid bone and which males shed and re-grow each year.


Antelopes' feet are hooves. Each hoof is split in the middle so they are like two toes. The size of the feet generally depend on habitat. Sitatungas live in swamps and have very wide hooves so they don't slip in the mud. Some, like the oryx, have wide hooves to stop them sinking in the sand of the deserts where they live. Some antelopes have tiny rounded hooves to help them move in rocky areas.

A herd of wildebeest cross a river © Getty Images

A herd of wildebeest cross a river © Getty Images


Antelopes are herbivores, or plant eaters.

Those sharing a habitat generally eat different plants or different parts of plants so they do not compete with each other for food. Because of the way they digest plants they eat, most antelopes are ruminants.


Social Behaviour

A springbok leaping as it runs © Getty Images

A springbok leaping as it runs © Getty Images

Most kinds of antelope live in herds for safety.

Some herds are huge.
Some kinds do not live in herds because where they live food is hard to find, so it is easier to find enough food if they are alone or in small groups.

A scimitar-horned oryx in the Sahara Desert. These antelopes are now extinct in the wild.

A scimitar-horned oryx in the Sahara Desert. These antelopes are now extinct in the wild.

Antelopes have excellent senses and are alert in order to look out for predators.


Most kinds of antelope are fast runners, and escape predators with great leaps. These sudden leaps ( pronking) can confuse a predator chasing them. The fastest antelopes reach speeds of about 95 km per hour. However, antelope species living in arid, or desert, areas do not run as fast as others because they have wide feet for easier movement on the desert sand.

The addax and oryx antelopes live in arid deserts. They travel many kilometres in their search for food. They have special features to help them survive in this harsh habitat. They drink very little, but eat at night when it is cooler and the plants are wet with dew. They pass little moisture out of their bodies. To cope with extreme heat, their bodies have a system of cooling the blood before it goes to the brain. Their fur is generally paler on their underside to reflect ground heat away from the stomach.

Life Cycle

A newborn Thomsons gazelle hidden in grass © getty Images

A newborn Thomsons gazelle hidden in grass © getty Images

Antelope females give birth somewhere between 4-9 months after mating, depending on what species of antelope they are. The calves are cleaned, fed and settled in a secret spot after they are born.

The mothers leave the calves, and visit every few hours to feed and clean them. They do this so that they do not lead predators to their calves. The calves stay motionless when they are alone, camouflaged in the undergrowth. After a few weeks they join the herd. The calves are generally very independent, spending more time together than with their mothers.

Conservation Status

About 25 kinds of antelope are threatened, including the sable antelope. The saiga antelope of Mongolia is Critically Endangered. The scimitar-horned oryx is extinct in the wild, meaning it is only found in zoos. Their main threat is habitat destruction and loss.

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