Although Antelope are an iconic group of species and one of the most populous in Africa, they tend to be a little over-looked in comparison to larger game such as elephant, rhino and predators. However, antelope are highly successful competitors in a variety of African habitats and some species have population numbers into the hundreds of thousands!
Antelope are members of the Family ‘Bovidae’ and are grouped as even-toed ungulates. Common throughout many countries across the world, Africa is home to the largest vibrant array of native antelope species, displaying varying and fascinating behaviour. Wildlife documentaries frequently choose to show antelope mass migrations, aggressive mating battles and impressive running and leaping abilities. The beautiful coat patterns and majestic antelope horns also add to the appeal.
Who wouldn’t be captivated by ‘pronking’ behaviour of the southern African Impala and Springbok or the immense fights between twisty horned male greater Kudu or Blackbucks.
After reading about the abundance of antelope species and their success in population numbers you may be a little surprised that these amazing animals are also under threat; habitat loss and illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade having the largest impact. We all know much of the wildlife in Africa is under threat and read about it in the news on a regular basis, so why focus on the antelope?
Well, apart from their incredible diversity and unique behaviours, antelope are an essential part of the African ecosystems. As primary consumers and grazers of the savanna’s, antelope help restore and maintain native grass species, as well as being the main form of prey for predators.
Many of Africa’s antelope species are threatened, and a few are classed as ‘Endangered’, ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Extinct in the wild’ on the IUCN Red List.
Antelope such as the Hirola (Hunter’s Antelope), Jentink’s Duiker and Scimitar-horned Oryx have suffered terrible decline from over-hunting and lack of suitable habitat due to human influence.
Bushmeat is derived from all species of wildlife in the African bush lands that are hunted and eaten by humans as a source of food. Antelope are one of the most common species groups hunted for their meat. Bushmeat hunting is common all over Africa and the rise of the Bushmeat Trade means the sale of wild animal meat is prominent worldwide.
A certain quota of hunting in Africa is legal, however, a large proportion of bushmeat is illegally, commercially and/or unsustainably derived:
Part of this increase is due to soaring human populations in parts of Africa, which grow to unsustainable numbers. People in the poorest areas resort to any means to feed their families.
The other, now the more significant and immediate threat, is due to commercial hunting. This problem has recently expanded into previously untapped areas, particularly in west Africa, and widespread extinctions have followed.
Many conservation initiatives are in place to protect rare and vulnerable antelope species. Reserve management projects such as the Zingela Conservation Project are at the forefront of conservation measures by protecting reserves and preventing illegal hunting. Zingela also run rare Roan and Sable antelope breeding farms in an attempt to increase numbers.
Wildlife rehabilitation centres care for animals which are sick or have been injured. The Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage often attends call-outs to save antelope caught in snares. Once back at the centre the dedicated staff and volunteers care for these fragile animals and rehabilitate them back out into their natural environment.
You can read more about the illegal bushmeat crisis at www.bushmeat.org