1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Antelope

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ANTELOPE, a zoological name which, so far as can be determined, appears to trace its origin, through the Latin, to Pantholops, the old Coptic, and Antholops, the late Greek name of the fabled unicorn. Its adoption by the languages of Europe cannot apparently be traced farther back than the 4th century of our era, at which date it was employed to designate an imaginary animal living on the banks of the Euphrates. By the earlier English naturalists, and afterwards by Buffon, it was, however, applied to the Indian blackbuck, which is thus entitled to rank as the antelope. It follows that the subfamily typified by this species, in which are included the gazelles, is the one to which alone the term antelopes should be applied if it were employed in a restricted and definable sense.

Although most people have a general vague idea of what constitutes an “antelope,” yet the group of animals thus designated is one that does not admit of accurate limitations or definition. Some, for instance, may consider that the chamois and the so-called white goat of the Rocky Mountains are entitled to be included in the group; but this is not the view held by the authors of the Book of Antelopes referred to below; and, as a matter of fact, the term is only a vague designation for a number of more or less distinct groups of hollow-horned ruminants which do not come under the designation of cattle, sheep or goats; and in reality there ought to be a distinct English group-name for each subfamily into which “antelopes” are subdivided.

The great majority of antelopes, exclusive of the doubtful chamois group (which, however, will be included in the present article), are African, although the gazelles are to a considerable extent an Asiatic group. They include ruminants varying in size from a hare to an ox; and comprise about 150 species, although this number is subject to considerable variation according to personal views as to the limitations of species and races. No true antelopes are American, the prongbuck (Antilocapra), which is commonly called “antelope” in the United States, representing a distinct group; while, as already mentioned, the Rocky Mountain or white goat stands on the borderland between antelopes and goats.

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Fig. 1.—Female Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus).

The first group, or Tragelaphinae, is represented by the African elands (Taurotragus), bongo (Boöcercus), kudus (Strepsiceros) and bushbucks or harnessed antelopes (Tragelaphus), and the Indian nilgai (Boselaphus). Except in the bongo and elands, horns are present only in the males, and these are angulated and generally spirally twisted, and without rings. The muzzle is naked, small glands are present on the face below the eyes, and the tail is comparatively long. The colours are often brilliant; white spots and stripes being prevalent. The harnessed antelopes, or bushbucks, are closely allied to the kudus, from which they chiefly differ by the spiral formed by the horns generally having fewer turns. They include some of the most brilliantly coloured of all antelopes; the ornamentation taking the form of vertical white lines and rows of spots. Usually the sexes differ in colour. Whereas most of the species have hoofs of normal shape, in some, such as the nakong, or situtunga (Tragelaphus spekei), these are greatly elongated, in order to be suited for walking in soft mud, and these have accordingly been separated as Limnotragus. The last-named species spends most of its time in water, where it may be observed not infrequently among the reeds with all but its head and horns submerged. The true or smaller bushbucks, represented by the widely spread Tragelaphus scriptus, with several local races (fig. 1) are sometimes separated as Sylvicapra, leaving the genus Tragelaphus to be represented by the larger T. angasi and its relatives. The genus Strepsiceros is represented by the true or great kudu (S. capensis or S. strepsiceros), fig. 2, ranging from the Cape to Somaliland, and the smaller S. imberbis of North-East Africa, which has no throat-fringe. The large and brightly coloured bongo (Boöcercus euryceros) of the equatorial forest-districts serves in some respects to connect the bushbucks with the elands, having horns in both sexes, and a tufted tail, but a brilliant orange coat with vertical white stripes. Still larger are the elands, of which the typical Taurotragus oryx of the Cape is uniformly sandy-coloured, although stripes appear in the more northern T. o. livingstonei, while the black-necked eland (T. derbianus) of Senegambia and the Bahr-el-Ghazal district is a larger and more brilliantly coloured animal. The small horns and bluish-grey colour of the adult bulls serve to distinguish the Indian nilgai (q.v.), Boselaphus tragocamelus, from the other members of the subfamily.


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Fig. 2.—Male Kudu (Strepsicero capensis).


The second group, which is mainly African, but also represented in Syria, is that of the Hippotraginae, typified by the sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) and roan antelope (H. equinus), but also including the oryxes (Oryx) and addax. These are for the most part large antelopes, with long cylindrical horns, which are present in both sexes, hairy muzzles, no face-glands, long tufted tails and tall thick molars of the ox-type. In Hippotragus the stout and thickly ringed horns rise vertically from a ridge above the eyes at an obtuse angle to the plane of the lower part of the face, and then sweep backwards in a bold curve; while there are tufts of long white hairs near the eyes. The sable antelope is a southern species in which both sexes are black or blackish when adult, while the lighter-coloured and larger roan antelope has a much wider distribution. The South African blauwbok (H. leucophaeus) is extinct. In the addax (Addax nasomaculatus), which is a distinct species common to North Africa and Syria, the ringed horns form an open spiral ascending in the plane of the face, and there is long, shaggy, dark hair on the fore-quarters in winter. The various species of oryx differ from Hippotragus by the absence of the white eye-tufts, and by the horns sloping backwards in the plane of the face. In the South African gemsbuck (Oryx gazella), fig. 3, the East African beisa or true oryx (O. beisa), and the white Arabian (O. beatrix) the horns are straight, but in the North African white oryx or algazel (O. leucoryx or O. algazal) they are scimitar-shaped; the colour of this species being white and pale chestnut (see Addax, Oryx, and Sable Antelope).

The third subfamily is the Antilopinae, the members of which have a much wider geographical range than either of the foregoing groups. The subfamily is characterized by the narrow crowns of the molars, which are similar to those of sheep, and the hairy muzzle. Generally there are face-glands below the eyes; and the tail is moderate or short. Pits are present in the forehead of the skull, and the horns are ringed for part of their length, with a compressed base; their form being often lyrate, but sometimes spiral. Lateral hoofs are generally present.


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Fig. 3.—Gemsbuck, or Cape Oryx (Oryx gazella).


Gazelles (Gazella), which form by far the largest genus of the subfamily, are inhabitants of open and frequently more or less desert districts. They are mostly of a sandy colour, with dark and light markings on the face, and often a dark band on the flanks. The horns are more or less lyrate, and generally developed in both sexes; there are frequently brushes of hair on the knees. Gazelles may be divided into groups. The one to which the North African G. dorcas belongs is characterized by the presence of lyrate or sub-lyrate horns in both sexes, and by the white of the buttocks not extending on to the haunches. Nearly allied is the group including the Indian G. bennetti and the Arabian G. arabica, in which the horns have a somewhat S-shaped curvature in profile. In the group represented by the African G. granti, G. thomsoni, G. mohr, &c., the white of the buttocks often sends a prolongation on to the flanks, the horns are long and the size is large. Lastly, the Central Asian G. gutturosa, G. subgutturosa and G. picticaudata form a group in which the females are hornless and the face-markings inconspicuous or wanting.

The South African springbuck (Antidorcas euchore) is nearly related to the gazelles, from which it is distinguished by the presence on the middle line of the loins of an evertible pouch, lined with long white hairs capable of erection. It has also one premolar tooth less in the lower jaw. Formerly these beautiful antelopes existed in countless numbers on the plains of South Africa, and were in the habit of migrating in droves which completely filled entire valleys. Now they are comparatively rare.

The dibatag or Clarke’s gazelle (Ammodorcas clarkei), of Somaliland, forms a kind of connecting link between the true gazelles and the gerenuk, this being especially shown in the skull. The face has the ordinary gazelle-markings; but the rather short horns—which are wanting in the female—have a peculiar upward and forward curvature, unlike that obtaining in the gazelles and somewhat resembling that of the reedbuck. The neck is longer and more slender than in ordinary gazelles, and the tail is likewise relatively long. Although local, these animals are fairly common in the interior of Somaliland, where they are known by the name of dibatag. In running, the head and neck are thrown backwards, while the tail is turned forwards over the back.

The East African gerenuk (q.v.), or Waller’s gazelle (Lithocranius walleri), of which two races have been named, is a very remarkable ruminant, distinguished not only by its exceedingly elongated neck and limbs, but also by the peculiar hooked form of the very massive horns of the bucks, the dense structure and straight profile of the skull, and the extreme slenderness of the lower jaw.

A still more aberrant gazelle is a small North-East African species known as the beira (Dorcatragus melanotis), with very short horns, large hoofs and a general appearance recalling that of some of the members of the subfamily Neotraginae, although in other respects gazelle-like. The blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra or A. bezoartica) of India, a species taking its name from the deep black coat assumed by the adult bucks, and easily recognized by the graceful, spirally twisted horns ornamenting the heads of that sex, is now the sole representative of the genus Antilope, formerly taken to embrace the whole of the true antelopes. Large face-glands are characteristic of the species, which inhabits the open plains of India in large herds. They leap high in the air, like the springbuck, when on the move.

With the palla (q.v.), or impala (Aepyceros melampus), we reach an exclusively African genus, characterized by the lyrate horns of the bucks, the absence of lateral hoofs, and the presence of a pair of glands with black tufts of hair on the hind-feet.

The sheep-like saiga (q.v.), Saiga tatarica, of the Kirghiz steppes stands apart from all other antelopes by its curiously puffed and trunk-like nose, which can be wrinkled up when the animal is feeding and has the nostrils opening downwards. More or less nearly related to the saiga is the chiru (q.v.), Pantholops hodgsoni of Tibet, characterized by the long upright black horns of the bucks, and the less convex nose, in which the nostrils open anteriorly instead of downwards.

The Neotraginae (or Nanotraginae) form an exclusively African group of small-sized antelopes divided into several, for the most part nearly related, genera. Almost the only characters they possess in common are the short and spike-like horns of the bucks, which are ringed at the base, with smooth tips, and the large size of the face-gland, which opens by a circular aperture. Neotragus is represented by the pigmy royal antelope (N. pygmaeus) of Guinea; Hylarnus includes one species from Cameroon and a second from the Semliki forest; while Nesotragus comprises the East African suni antelopes, N. moschatus and N. livingstonianus. All three might, however, well be included in Neotragus. The royal antelope is the smallest of the Bovidae.

The steinbok (Rhaphiceros campestris) and the grysbok (R. melanotis) are the best-known representatives of a group characterized by the vertical direction of the horns and the small gland-pit in the skull; lateral hoofs being absent in the first-named and present in the second. A bare gland-patch behind the ear serves to distinguish the oribis or ourebis, as typified by Oribia montana of the Cape; lateral hoofs being present and the face-pit large.

From all the preceding the tiny dik-diks (Madoqua) of North-East Africa differ by their hairy noses, expanded in some species into short trunks; while the widely spread klipspringer (q.v.), Oreotragus saltator, with its several local races, is unfailingly distinguishable by its rounded blunt hoofs and thick, brittle, golden-flecked hair.

In some respects connecting the last group with the Cervicaprinae is the rhebok, or vaal-rhebok (Pelea capreolus), a grey antelope of the size of a roebuck, with small upright horns in the bucks recalling those of the last group, and small lateral hoofs, but no face-glands. In size and several structural features it approximates to the more typical Cervicaprinae, as represented by the reedbuck (Cervicapra), and the waterbucks and kobs (Cobus or Kobus), all of which are likewise African. These are medium-sized or large antelopes with naked muzzles, narrow sheep-like upper molars, fairly long tails, rudimentary or no face-glands, and pits in the frontal bones of the skull. Reedbuck (q.v.), or rietbok (Cervicapra), are foxy-red antelopes ranging in size from a fallow-deer to a roe, with thick bushy tails, forwardly curving black horns, and a bare patch of glandular skin behind each ear. They keep to open country near water. The waterbuck (q.v.), Cobus, on the other hand, actually seek refuge from pursuit in the water. They have heavily fringed necks, tufted tails, long lyrate horns in the bucks (fig. 4) but no glandular ear-patches. The true waterbuck (C. ellipsiprymnus), and the defassa or sing-sing (C. defassa), are the two largest species, equal in size to red deer, and grey or reddish in colour. Of the smaller forms or kobs, C. maria and C. leucotis of the swamps of the White Nile are characterized by the black coats of the adult bucks; the West African C. cob, and its East African representative C. thomasi, are wholly red antelopes of the size of roedeer; the lichi or lechwe (C. lichi) is characterized by its long horns, black fore-legs and superior size; while the puku (C. vardoni), which is also a swamp-loving species from South-Central Africa, differs from the three preceding species by the fore-legs being uniformly foxy.


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Fig. 4.—Waterbuck (Cobus ellipsiprymnus).


The duikers, or duikerboks (Cephalophus), of Africa, which range in size from a large hare to a fallow-deer, typify the subfamily Cephalophinae, characterized by the spike-like horns of the bucks, the elongated aperture of the face-glands, the naked muzzle, the relatively short tail, and the square-crowned upper molars; lateral hoofs being present. In the duikers themselves the single pair of horns is set in the midst of a tuft of long hairs, and the face-gland opens in a long naked line on the side of the face above the muzzle. The group is represented in India by the chousingha or four-horned antelope (Tetraceros quadricornis), generally distinguished by the feature from which it takes its name (see Duiker).

The last section of the true antelopes is the Bubalinae, represented by the hartebeest (q.v.), Bubalis, blesbok and sassaby (Damaliscus), and the gnu (q.v.) or wildebeest (Connochaetes, also called Catoblepas), all being African with the exception of one or two hartebeests which range into Syria. All these are large and generally more or less uniformly coloured antelopes with horns in both sexes, long and more or less hairy tails, high withers, small face-glands, naked muzzles, tall, narrow upper molars, and the absence of pits in the frontal bones. The long face, high crest for the horns, which are ringed, lyrate and more or less strongly angulated, and the moderately long tail, are the distinctive features of the hartebeests. They are large red antelopes (fig. 5), often with black markings on the face and limbs. In Damaliscus, which includes, among many other species, the blesbok and bontebok (D. albifrons and D. pygargus) and the sassaby or bastard hartebeest (D. lunatus), the face is shorter, and the horns straighter and set on a less elevated crest. The colour, too, of these antelopes tends in many cases to purple, with white markings. From the hartebeest the gnus (fig. 6) differ by their smooth and outwardly or downwardly directed horns, broad bristly muzzles, heavy manes and long horse-like tails. There are two chief types, the white-tailed gnu or black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnu) of South Africa, now nearly extinct (fig. 6), and the brindled gnu, or blue wildebeest (C. taurinus), which, with some local variation, has a large range in South and East Africa.


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Fig. 5.—Cape Hartebeest (Bubalis cama).


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Fig. 6.—White-tailed Gnu, or Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnu)


In concluding this survey of living antelopes, reference may be made to the subfamily Rupicaprinae (typified by the European chamois), the members of which, as already stated, are in some respects intermediate between antelopes and goats. They are all small or medium-sized mountain ruminants, for the most part European and Asiatic, but with one North American representative. They are heavily built ruminants, with horns of nearly equal size in both sexes, short tapering tails, large hoofs, narrow goat-like upper molars, and usually small face-glands. The horns are generally rather small, upright, ringed at the base, and more or less curved backwards, but in the takin they are gnu-like. The group is represented by the European chamois or gemse (Rupicapra tragus or R. rupicapra), broadly distinguished by its well-known hook-like horns, and the Asiatic gorals (Urotragus) and serows (Nemorhaedus), which are represented by numerous species ranging from Tibet, the Himalaya, and China, to the Malay Peninsula and islands, being in the two latter areas the sole representatives of both antelopes and goats. In the structure of its horns the North American white Rocky Mountain goat (Oreamnus) is very like a serow, from which it differs by its extremely short cannon-bones. In the latter respect this ruminant resembles the takin (Budorcas) of Tibet, which, as already mentioned, has horns recalling those of the white-tailed gnu. Possibly the Arctic musk-ox (Ovibos) may be connected with the takin by means of certain extinct ruminants, such as the North American Pleistocene Euceratherium and the European Pliocene Criotherium (see Chamois, Goral, Serow, Rocky Mountain Goat and Takin).

Extinct Antelopes.—Only a few lines can be devoted to extinct antelopes, the earliest of which apparently date from the European Miocene. An antelope from the Lower Pliocene of Northern India known as Bubalis, or Damaliscus, palaeindicus indicates the occurrence of the hartebeest group in that country. Cobus also occurs in the same formation, as does likewise Hippotragus. Palaeoryx from the corresponding horizon in Greece and Samos is to some extent intermediate between Hippotragus and Oryx. Gazelles are common in the Miocene and Pliocene of both Europe and Asia. Elands and kudus appear to have been represented in India during the Pliocene; the European Palaeoreas of the same age seems to be intermediate between the two, while Protragelaphus is evidently another European representative of the group. Helicophora is another spiral-horned European Pliocene antelope, but of somewhat doubtful affinity; the same being the case with the large Criotherium of the Samos Pliocene, in which the short horns are curiously twisted. As already stated, there is a possibility of this latter ruminant being allied both to the takin and the musk-ox. Palaeotragus and Tragoceros, of the Lower Pliocene of Greece, at one time regarded as antelopes, are now known to be ancestors of the okapi.

For antelopes in general, see P. L. Sclater and O. Thomas, The Book of Antelopes (4 vols., London, 1894-1900). (R. L.*)