Giant Sable
Giant Sable

Average Mass:
215 kg (475 lb)

Average Shoulder Height:
140 cm (55")

Rowland Ward:


Giant Sable Spoor

Track: 114mm (4 1/2") x 76mm (3")

Giant Sable Distribution

The Giant Sable is found only in Angola between the upper Cuanza River and its tributary, the Loando (Wilson & Reeder, 1993; Grobler, 1974).

The giant sable antelope of Angola, with its striking coal-black coat and gracefully curved horns that reach over five feet long, was unknown to the world outside its highland habitat until 1916. Through the years, this revered and elusive sable has been transformed from a highly sought-after natural history prize, to a forgotten relic of a warring Angola, to a political symbol and conservation icon. Modern history threatened the giant sable antelope when a civil war erupted in Angola in 1975, restricting knowledge about the antelope for over 27 years. With the recent ending of the civil war, Walker joined an expedition that confirmed for the first time that the species had survived - a major feat, since the nation lost 90% of its large animals. The giant sable antelope lived through Africa’s longest running conflict in part because of its symbolic significance to each of the warring sides.

There are 4 recognized subspecies or races of Sable Antelope: Zambian (Hippotragus niger kirkii), Common or Southern (Hippotragus niger niger), Eastern (Hippotragus niger roosevelti), and the Giant or Angolan (Hippotragus niger variani). The Kirki, Common, and Northern subspecies are listed in the "Lower Risk-Conservation Dependent" category by C.I.T.E.S, and has no listing in F.W.S. or I.U.C.N. However, C.I.T.E.S., F.W.S., and I.U.C.N. have placed the Giant Sable Antelope in the "critically endangered" category.

Sable Antelope do not start life with a dark coat. A newborn calf is born with a camouflaging, sandy-brown coat. As the calf grows and achieves status in the herd, its coat will continually darken (Wolfsen 1997). The coat color of adult females and sub-adult males range from a rich-chestnut brown to brownish-black. Fully mature males generally have the darkest coat coloration, brownish-black or a pitch-black color that glistens in the sunlight. The abdominal, rump, and facial areas are a sharp contrasting white color. The coat coloration appears to be under hormonal control. If a mature male is castrated, he will lose the black color and return to a brown color. (Refer to the picture on the following page. The mature female has a darker coat then a then a newly castrated male.) A black facial stripe, running from the horn base to the nostrils, camouflages the species’ large black eye.

The scientific name of the Sable Antelope, Hippotragus, is a composite of two Greek words, "hippo"-meaning "horse-like" and "tragus"-meaning "goat". The Sable Antelope appears horse-like in many of its physical features. The ears are long and pointed, averaging 6.3–7.4 inches (16-19 cm.)(Kingdon 1982) in length. They have a mane that starts between their ears and ends between their shoulder blades. The Sable Antelope’s mane is denser and stands more upright. The neck is broad and thickly muscled. The tail grows 15-18 inches (38-46 cm.)(Kingdon 1982) long and ends in a small tuft of hair. Sable Antelope have a compact and powerful body stature. The body height, hooves to shoulders, ranges from 46-55.1 inches (117-140 cm.)(Kingdon 1982). The body length, nose to rump, ranges from 77.6–82.7 inches (197-210cm.)(Kingdon 1982). A full grown female weighs around 400 pounds (178 Kg.), while a male can weigh as much as 660 pounds (300 Kg.)(Stuart and Stuart 1989). Both sexes are equipped with large, ringed, sickle-shaped horns that arch over the back. The horns serve as very affective defensive weapons against natural predators and are used in dominance fighting. Male horns generally arch further over the back, and grow longer and thicker then a female’s. Horn length varies within a subspecies and between the subspecies. Final adult horn length can range from 40-65 inches (101.6-165.1cm.)(Wolfsen 1997). The Northern subspecies generally grows the shortest horns, while the Giant Sable tends to grow the longest horns (Mochi and Carter 1971).

Sable antelope are diurnal in nature, meaning they are most active in the daylight.

Currently Giant Sable Antelope are found only in central Angola in the Luando Reserve and Kangandala National Park, indicated by the letter "G" on the map. It is estimated that only 1000 survive.

Sable antelope inhabit dry open woodlands and medium tall grass savannas. They generally avoid dense woodlands and short grass savannas (Stuart 1997).

They graze on a variety of short grasses abundant during the growing season and survive by browsing on herbs, bushes, and trees during the harsh dry season. Sable Antelope have a ruminant digestive system.

It is believed that no Giant Sable Antelope specimens have ever been imported and held in captivity.

Categorical-discrete (CD) distribution model

This species lives in miombo (Brachystegia) woodland and open savanna woodland; it does not occur in open grass savanna. Drinking water is essential (Haltenorth & Diller, 1980; East, 1988, 1989).