Roan: The Antelopes of Africa, 1 of 35 (and the Critters that Eat Them)

Today's first official "Antelopes and the Critters that Eat Them" species feature is dedicated to the Roan Antelope - one of the stranger-looking but especially pretty members of the group.


Distribution + Phylogeny (family history):
Found in West, Central, East and parts of southern Africa, the roan, like all antelope, belong to the Bovidae family... but from within that family, and the seven different Antelope groupings (antelopes being all bovids that aren't sheep/goats/cattle), they belong to the Hippotraginae subfamily - the "hippo" name deriving from ancient Greek "hippos" referring to their horse-like appearance - long legs, beefy body and a thick, muscular neck.


Name Meaning:
Their scientific name, Hippotragus equinus, aka horsey-horse, reflects their size and horsiness, though personally I think the sable and oryx - also members of Hippotraginae - are even horsier. Their common name, roan, refers to the "roan" reddish-brown colour of their coats.


Size / Body Features:
Hippotraginae captures the second-largest-in-body-size of the antelope subfamilies, only the Tragelaphinae (spiral-horned antelopes) hosting the biggest antelope of all - the eland, greater kudu and bongo. Males are largest coming in at 220-300kg (similar to sable), shoulder height up to 150cm, length to 280cm. Horns are ringed as in oryx/sable and can reach 1m in males, slightly less in females - though as both males and females have horns they are "sexually monomorphic" (similar body features). Slightly dipped spine.


Body Colour:
Stunning black-and-white facial mask-like markings set on a roan coat, with white belly (most antelopes) and black tail. All very horsey, including their erect mane/withers.


Found in woodland/grassland/savanna, mainly in tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome, which range in tree density from forest with a grassy understorey eg. Zambezian Miombo woodlands (incl. mopane) to grasslands dotted with few trees.


Food / Eating Habits:
Roan are grazers (eat grasses etc) and eat mid-length grasses.


Group Structure / Sexual Habits:
Roan antelope form harem groups up to ~15 animals, with a dominant male. Males commonly fight for dominance of their herd, clashing horns and often moving the fight to their knees.


Reach sexual maturity by 2.5 to 3 years, gestation last 9 months (long for an antelope). Lifespan to 18 years.


Limited to larger predators, predominantly lions, though weak/injured/young animals could fall prey to leopards, wild dogs and spotted hyena.


Their spine arches/dips slightly, again much like a horse or zebra, and from observation their tracks appear to semi-register - their dipped/slightly sloped back causes their rear foot to not "register" within the track left by the front foot while walking - only partially. Ungulate, two-hoofed animal, dewclaws may register in deep sand/mud.


IUCN Red List (Conservation) Status / Threats:
Least concern, 50-60,000 individuals. Threats incl. urban development, agriculture conflict/competition for grazing land and poaching for bushmeat.


*My personal experiences with roan antelope:
This particular subspecies is H. e. cottoni, one of six subspecies. I have seen roan only in a few locations in all my travels, including in Moremi GR, Botswana (pics 1-9); in Busanga Plains, the northern private section of Kafue NP in Zambia (pic 10), where I also saw sable in the same area; and I can't remember where else... I think maybe Kasanka NP, also in Zambia; also in Tanzania.


**You will have a chance to see Roan antelope on RAW Safaris, both in Tanzania and in Botswana. For more information, head to the Expeditions page here.


It's a rare treat when you see them, so make the most of every moment!