The Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) is a large and ungainly looking, tan-coloured antelope, a relative of the wildebeest (not in Uganda) and has large shoulders, a sloping back and relatively small horns. It lives in small herds in lightly wooded and open savanna habitats.
This large antelope was originally found in grasslands throughout the African continent. It ranged from Morroco to northeastern Tanzania and south of the Congo, from southern Angola to South Africa. However, its range has been drastically reduced due to hunting by humans, habitat destruction and foraging competition with domestic cattle.
The common hartebeest species in Uganda is Jackson’s hartebeest (A. b. Jackson), and the Lelwel hartebeest (A. b. lelweli) occupies west of the Nile in Murchison Fallsa National Park.
Hartebeests are social animals living in organized herds of up to 300 animals. They have been known to form aggregations of up to 10,000 animals.
Within a herd, there are four types of animals: territorial adult males, nonterritorial adult males, groups of young males, and groups of females and young. Females within a herd form groups of 5-12 animals with up to four generations of offspring in their group, and they do not form secure groups with other adult females.
It is thought that there are dominant solid relationships between females and that these groups define the social structure of the entire herd. Females have been observed to fight one another occasionally.
Male offspring may remain with their mother for up to three years but usually leave their mothers at about 20 months to join groups of other young males.
At 3 to 4 years old, males may begin to attempt to take over a territory and the females within it. Once a territory has been established, the male will defend it and does not usually leave.
Males are aggressive and, if challenged, will fight. A series of head movements and stances and depositing droppings on established dung piles precedes any contact. If that does not suffice, males bend forward and leap with their horns lowered. Injuries and fatalities do occur but are pretty rare.
Females and young may move in and out of the territories freely, following the best grazing. Males lose their territory after 7 to 8 years.
Hartebeests are usually conspicuous and passive, and they may have a sentinel to warn the herd of predators. Although appearing slightly awkward, they may reach 70 to 80 kph speeds. They are very alert and cautious in comparison to other ungulates.
Hartebeests rely primarily on their vision to spot predators and snort to warn each other of approaching danger. They gallop away in single file after seeing one of the herd members bolts. They have been observed tacking, making a sharp 90-degree turn after taking only 1-2 strides in a given direction.
How to see the hartebeest in Uganda
The best place to see the hartebeest in Uganda is visiting Murchison falls national park on a game drive safari. Also Kideo Valley has a heathy population of Jackson’s hartebeest you can watch on a Uganda safari.