Damaliscus lunatus lunatus
The Tsessebe is considered to be Africa’s most athletic antelope, though you would probably not immediately guess that when looking upon their ungainly physiques for the first time. Not only are they the fastest antelope (up to 80km/h), but they have tremendous stamina, being able to maintain a speed of 60km/h over distances of up to 5km.
Tsessebes are large antelopes, much larger than their close cousin the Blesbok, weighing in at an average of 140kg and standing up to 1.3m high at the shoulder. Bulls have thicker horns than cows.
These fleet-footed antelope live in open woodlands, lightly wooded and open grasslands and flood plains, where they require easy access to drinking water and shade. They subsist almost exclusively on grass and are especially attracted to new growth sprouting after veld fires.
Tsessebes are territorial animals. In areas with low population density they live in stable herds consisting of a single territorial bull, 2 to 6 cows and their dependent calves with large home ranges, while in more densely populated areas, specifically during the rutting season, bulls establish small territories into which they try to herd traversing cows for mating. Solitary bulls and bachelor groups also occur, and move along the edges of the territories. Territories are maintained through ritual displays (including horning the ground) and fighting, and demarcated with scent glands and dung heaps by both sexes. They are normally found in small herds of up to eleven animals, but can at times congregate in huge numbers when conditions are favourable. Herds are lead by the most dominant cow. Tsessebes often associate with other herbivorous animals, regularly occurring in mixed herds with waterbuck, wildebeest, zebras and ostriches. They are very curious and will even approach something unknown for a closer look, or when fleeing run away for only a short distance before turning around to check up on what frightened them, often with deadly consequences for the tsessebe.
Single calves are born at the onset of the rainy season after a gestation of around 240 days, and are able to keep up with the herd shortly after birth. Females can stay in the same group their entire lives, but young bulls are driven from their maternal herd at about a year of age. Tsessebe and their calves feature on the menu of all Africa’s medium to large predators, and have a natural life expectancy of about 12 years.
Africa is home to five different races of Tsessebe, also called Topi, Korrigum and Tiang according to the subspecies they belong to, numbering an estimated 300,000. The IUCN estimates the total population of the southern race of Tsessebe (D.l. lunatus) at around 30,000, with the overall population increasing steadily despite pressures from habitat loss. They are rare in South Africa, though numbers are increasing, with small populations being protected in the Kruger, Marakele, Mokala and Pilanesberg National Parks, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ithala Game Reserve.