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The hartebeest, also known as kongoni, is an African antelope, first described by the German zoologist Peter Simon Pallas in 1766. Eight subspecies have been described, including two sometimes considered to be independent species. A large antelope, the hartebeest stands just over 1 m (3.3 ft) at the shoulder, and has a typical head-and-body length of 200 to 250 cm (79 to 98 in). The weight ranges from 100 to 200 kg (220 to 440 lb). It has a particularly elongated forehead and oddly shaped horns, short neck, and pointed ears. Its legs, which often have black markings, are unusually long.

The coat is generally short and shiny. Coat colour varies by the subspecies, from the sandy brown of the western hartebeest to the chocolate brown of the Swayne's hartebeest. Both sexes of all subspecies have horns, with those of females being more slender. Horns can reach lengths of 45–70 cm (18–28 in). Apart from its long face, the large chest and the sharply sloping back differentiate the hartebeest from other antelopes.

Gregarious animals, hartebeest form herds of 20 to 300 individuals. They are very alert and non-aggressive. They are primarily grazers, with their diets consisting mainly of grasses. Mating in hartebeest takes place throughout the year with one or two peaks, and depends upon the subspecies and local factors. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at one to two years of age. Gestation is eight to nine months long, after which a single calf is born. Births usually peak in the dry season. The lifespan is 11 to 20 years in the wild and up to 19 years in captivity.

Inhabiting dry savannas and wooded grasslands, hartebeest often move to more arid places after rainfall. They have been reported from altitudes on Mount Kenya up to 4,000 m (13,000 ft). The hartebeest was formerly widespread in Africa, but populations have undergone drastic decline due to habitat destruction, hunting, human settlement, and competition with livestock for food. Each of the eight subspecies of the hartebeest has a different conservation status. The Bubal hartebeest was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1994. While the populations of the red hartebeest are on the rise, those of the Tora hartebeest, already Critically Endangered, are falling. The hartebeest is extinct in Algeria, Egypt, Lesotho, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, and Tunisia; but has been introduced into Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It is a popular game animal due to its highly regarded meat.

Fun Facts

Active mainly during daytime, the hartebeest grazes in the early morning and late afternoon, and rests in shade around noon. Gregarious, the species forms herds of up to 300 individuals. Larger numbers gather in places with abundant grass. In 1963, a congregation of 10,000 animals was recorded on the plains near Sekoma Pan in Botswana. However, moving herds are not so cohesive, and tend to disperse frequently. The members of a herd can be divided into four groups: territorial adult males, non-territorial adult males, young males, and the females with their young.

The females form groups of five to 12 animals, with four generations of young in the group. Females fight for dominance over the herd. Sparring between males and females is common. At three or four years of age, the males can attempt to take over a territory and its female members. A resident male defends his territory and will fight if provoked. The male marks the border of his territory through defecation.

A herd of hartebeest
Hartebeest are remarkably alert and cautious animals with highly developed brains. Generally calm in nature, hartebeest can be ferocious when provoked. While feeding, one individual stays on the lookout for danger, often standing on a termite mound to see farther. At times of danger, the whole herd flees in a single file after an individual suddenly starts off.  Adult hartebeest are preyed upon by lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs; cheetahs and jackals target juveniles. Crocodiles may also prey on hartebeest.

The thin long legs of the hartebeest provide for a quick escape in an open habitat; if attacked, the formidable horns are used to ward off the predator. The elevated position of the eyes enables the hartebeest to inspect its surroundings continuously even as it is grazing. The muzzle is designed so as to derive maximum nutrition from even a frugal diet. The horns are also used during fights among males for dominance in the breeding season; the clash of the horns is loud enough that it can be heard from hundreds of metres away.The beginning of a fight is marked with a series of head movements and stances, as well as depositing droppings on dung piles. The opponents drop onto their knees and, after giving a hammer-like blow, begin wrestling, their horns interlocking. One attempts to fling the head of the other to one side to stab the neck and shoulders with his horns. Fights are rarely serious, but can be fatal if they are.

Like the sassabies, hartebeest produce quiet quacking and grunting sounds. Juveniles tend to be more vocal than adults, and produce a quacking call when alarmed or pursued.[38] The hartebeest uses defecation as an olfactory and visual display. Herds are generally sedentary, and tend to migrate only under adverse conditions such as natural calamities. The hartebeest is the least migratory in the tribe Alcelaphini (which also includes wildebeest and sassabies), and also consumes the least amount of water and has the lowest metabolic rate among the members of the tribe.


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