Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus)
The Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) is a large and ungainly looking, tan-coloured antelope, a relative of the wildebeest, which is absent from 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. Its range has been drastically reduced, however, due to hunting by humans, habitat destruction and foraging competition with domestic cattle. Now the hartebeest is found only in parts of Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya.
The typical hartebeest of Uganda is Jackson’s hartebeest (A. b. jacksoni), though it is replaced by the Lelwel hartebeest (A. b. lelweli) west of the Nile.
The closely related and similarly built topi (Datnaliscus lunatus) has a much darker coat than the hartebeest, and distinctive blue-black markings above its knees. Jackson’s hartebeest is most frequently seen in Murchison Falls, though it also occurs in Kidepo Valley.
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 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. They do not form secure groups with other adult females.
It is thought that there are strong dominance relationships between females and that these groups define the social organization for the entire herd. Females have been observed to occasionally fight one another.
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 quite 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 sedentary. They may have a sentinel to warn the herd of predators. Although appearing slightly awkward, they may reach speeds of 70 to 80 kph. They are very alert and cautious in comparison to other plains ungulates.
Hartebeests rely primarily on their vision to spot predators, and they snort to warn each other of approaching danger. They gallop away in single file, after they see one of the members of the herd bolt. They have been observed tacking, that is making a sharp 90 degree turn after taking only 1-2 strides in a given direction.