Arguably the most striking antelope in Gorongosa, the sable is instantly recognizable by its beautiful coat, horse-like mane, and long, elegantly curved horns. Males are shiny black, with a white belly and white facial markings. Females and younger males are usually reddish brown. Sables are not just the beauties of Gorongosa, they are also a great success story. While sable populations are dangerously low in many other parts of Africa, Gorongosa’s sable population is thriving and you have a good chance of seeing one on your visit. You can find Gorongosa’s sables grazing on the tall grass among trees, or even on the side of the road as you enter from the main gate! When you encounter a group of sable, look carefully and you’ll see that the bull with his harem of females is not the leader in the herd. The leader is always a strong female and the old bull follows her.
Gorongosa’s waterbuck have become the kingpin of the Urema floodplain. With so much food and little competition, the waterbuck population has exploded and they can be seen in vast herds across the floodplain. It’s a sight not to miss! Waterbucks are robust, grey-brown antelopes with a signature white “bulls-eye” on their rump. As their name suggests, waterbuck always graze close to water and may even run into the water when chased by a lion. If encountered by a predator, they will defend themselves ferociously with their hooves and powerful horns.
The kudu is one of the most magnificent large antelopes of Gorongosa. The male’s spiral horns tower overhead and their thick manes give them a strong and stately appearance. The females are an elegant sandy-brown with white stripes and both have oversized ears that can twist in almost any direction, giving them exceptionally good hearing. That barking sound you hear as you approach is no dog, it’s the kudu warning other animals that danger is near. Predators don’t dare mess with a male kudu but females and calves may not be so lucky. If impalas are the acrobatics of Gorongosa, kudus are the high jumpers. They can easily clear obstacles 2.5 m high when running away from danger. The best places to spot kudus are among trees in wooded savanna during early morning or later in the afternoon as they feed on leaves. Male kudus can fight fiercely to win a female, and their duels occasionally end in death of both rivals after their horns become permanently interlocked.
If you see a male and a female nyala side-by-side, you’ll be amazed that they are the same species! The females look a lot like a kudu with a sandy coat and white stripes but they are much smaller. The males are dark chestnut brown, with a long, dark mane that stretches from under the chin to between the hind legs, and have distinctive orange legs. The shy nyala can be found near watering holes or browsing on leaves in the forest. You might even see one standing on its hind legs to eat hard to reach leaves, or stripping bark off young trees.
One antelope that you’ll never misidentify is the Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. Both males and females have bizarre “Z-shaped” horns, a reddish-brown coat, sloping back, horse-like tail, and a long, narrow head. Hartebeests are grazers that may follow wildebeest and zebra around to take advantage of the short lawn they create. The strong bull in each herd will defend his harem of females from other males. If you’re lucky enough, you might just see this ritualized fight. Instead of clashing horns while standing, they drop to their knees, interlock their horns, and try to twist each other’s head to the ground.
Despite being the largest antelope in Africa (twice the weight of a kudu), this cow-sized animal is surprisingly difficult to spot. They are shy and take flight the moment they see an approaching vehicle. Like the kudu, they have sandy-brown coats with thin white stripes but both males and females have manes and straight horns that are only twisted at the base. Old bulls grow a patch of long, dark hair on the forehead. Elands mostly browse on leaves, but may graze grass and dig for bulbs and roots with their hoofs.
Gorongosa’s wildebeest can be seen roaming the open plains, grazing on the productive grasses of the Urema valley, never wandering too far from water. In 2007, 180 wildebeest were relocated to Gorongosa’s fenced sanctuary to give the Park’s population a boost. After years of successful breeding, their population increased to the point where some of them were released into the general park area for visitors to see. You may spot the wildebeest’s ungainly silhouette on the horizon and instantly recognize its shape. Its head is proportionately larger than it’s sloped body, and its short, curved horns pierce the sky. As you get closer, you can see that its coat is dark grey to brownish-grey, and there is a shaggy black mane under its chin and across its neck and shoulders. Notice how it grazes on the plains – it follows behind other antelopes and chooses the shortest, most productive grasses to eat. Its teeth and muzzle are specially designed to crop short grass to pack the most nutrition into every bite.