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What is an Antelope?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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An antelope is one of roughly 100 species found within the Bovidae family. Antelopes are closely related to other even-toed ungulates such as cows, horses, sheep, and goats. True antelopes are native to Africa and Asia, with the Pronghorn Antelope of the United States being classified entirely differently, despite the name. Many people associate antelope with Africa in particular, where they are quite abundant, and antelope can also be seen in many zoos around the world.

Distinguishing antelope from other Bovids can be tricky, as these animals have a lot in common with their relatives. All Bovids, for example, are lanky herbivores with even-toed feet. Antelope tend to be especially slender and very fast, in contrast with bulkier animals like cattle, but it is their horns which really set them apart. The horns of antelope grow quite long, with hollow cores covered in a layer of keratin, and they are permanent. Some antelope develop very elaborate horns which may be twisted, grooved, or deeply curved.

Antelope vary widely in size, from animals little larger than a dog to the Eland, which can be almost six feet (two meters) high at the shoulder. Most antelope are brown to red in color, with short, coarse hair which turns creamy on the belly. While all antelope are speedy, some species are also especially well-adapted to jumping, and others are capable of standing on their hind legs to reach particularly appealing plant material. This trait can also be useful in the dry season, where forage may be limited, and being able to reach high could be critical for survival. Some antelope also exhibit a behavior known as pronking or stotting, in which the animals jump straight up in the air for play, as a physical display, or to avoid a predator.

The lifestyle of antelope varies considerably, depending on the species. Some antelope, for example, are very social, living in large herds and working as collectives to raise and protect young. Others live in pairs, or prefer a more solitary existence. Antelope feed on a variety of grasses, trees, and shrubs, and some are water-independent, getting all the water they need from their diets. These animals are also extremely alert, with senses honed over centuries of evolution to detect potential threats, and many antelope vocalize with alarm calls or stamp to signal other members of the herd when there is a danger.

Some examples of animals which are considered antelope are: impalas, blackbucks, gazelles, dik-diks, duikers, gemsbocks, nilgais, dibatags, oryxes, and springboks, among many others. The health of antelope populations in the wild varies considerably, with some species being considered endangered due to habitat pressures and other issues, while others remain very healthy. Some hunting organizations have actively worked to preserve antelope, recognizing the fact that these animals make popular game and wanting to preserve the experience for future generations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is an antelope?

An antelope is a member of a number of even-toed ungulate species indigenous to various regions in Africa and Eurasia. Antelopes are not a taxonomically defined group but a term encompassing species that are neither cattle, sheep, buffalo, bison, nor goats; they are part of the Bovidae family, which also includes these animals.

How many species of antelope are there?

There are approximately 91 species of antelope, most of which are native to Africa with a few species inhabiting Asia. These species vary widely in size, shape, and habitat preferences, ranging from the tiny Royal antelope to the large Eland.

What distinguishes antelopes from deer?

Antelopes and deer differ primarily in their horn structure. Antelopes have unbranched, permanent horns covered with a keratin sheath, which they retain throughout their lives. Deer, on the other hand, have branched antlers made of bone that they shed and regrow annually. Additionally, antelopes are part of the Bovidae family, while deer belong to the Cervidae family.

What habitats do antelopes live in?

Antelopes inhabit a wide range of habitats, including grasslands, savannas, woodlands, forests, marshes, and deserts. Their adaptability to different terrains and climates is remarkable, with each species having evolved to thrive in specific environments. For instance, the Addax antelope is well-suited for desert life, while the Waterbuck is found near water sources in savanna regions.

Are antelopes endangered?

Many antelope species are facing threats and are considered endangered. Habitat loss, poaching, and competition with domestic livestock contribute to their decline. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists several species like the Saiga and the Addax as critically endangered, highlighting the urgent need for conservation efforts.

What do antelopes eat?

Antelopes are primarily herbivores, and their diets consist of a variety of vegetation, including grasses, leaves, and shoots. Some species, like the Dik-dik, may consume fruits and flowers, while others, such as the Klipspringer, are adapted to browse on tougher plants in rocky terrain. Their specific diets are closely related to their habitats and the availability of food sources.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By anon73685 — On Mar 29, 2010

are they really small? can you see it?

By anon66354 — On Feb 19, 2010

but where do they migrate to?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
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