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Kobus ellipsiprymnus


This antelope has long, shaggy hair, and a brown-gray to reddish coat that emits an oily, smelly secretion that acts as a water repellant.

Males bear long (up to 39 inches), heavily-ridged horns, extending back from the head and then sweeping forward.

Body length ranges from 5.8 to 7.7 feet, and weight from 330 to 500 pounds; males are larger than fmales.

The two main subspecies of waterbuck are distinguishable by their rump markings -- the defassa has wide white patches on each side of rump, while the common has a conspicuous white ring around a dark rump. All waterbucks have large, rounded ears and white patches above the eyes and around the nose, mouth, and throat.

Defassa Waterbuck

Ellipsen Waterbuck

Distribution and Habitat

The common waterbuck occurs in south-east Africa, east of the Great Rift Valley, while the Defassa waterbuck is found west of the Great Rift Valley, ranging from Ethiopia west to Senegal. They inhabit areas close to water in savanna grasslands, gallery forests and riverine woodlands.

Habits and Behaviors

Despite its common name, the waterbuck is not really aquatic, but it will often take refuge from predators in a swamp or other large body of water.

Female and young waterbuck form herds of up to 30 individuals, which move freely through a number of male territories Young males live in bachelor herds, until the opportunity arises to usurp an adult male from his territory. Each herd has a distinct social hierarchy based on size and strength, and contests are frequent. Around 6 to 7 years, males become territorial, defending them against mature rivals with posturing and fights. These territories are maintained throughout the year, but a male is generally overthrown before he reaches 10 years of age.


During the mating season, adult males attempt to hold females as they wander through their territory for mating. The gestation period lasts about 280 days, and the female gives birth to a single calf, which remains hidden in vegetation for at least the first two weeks of life. After this period, the calf begins to join its mother and the herd, the mother's raised tail serving as a signal to follow. The calf is weaned at about six months. Female waterbuck reach maturity at about three years of age, while males leave their mother's herd at about eight or nine months to join a  bachelor herd, but are unable to compete for their own territory until five or six years old. Waterbuck are known to live for up to 18 years.


Waterbuck feed on coarse grasses not typically eaten by other grazing animals, as well as some aquatic vegetation.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Artiodactyla
family Bovidae
genus & species
Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa defassa waterbuck
K.e. ellipsiprymnus common waterbuck

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The Robinson Library >> Family Bovidae

This page was last updated on November 07, 2018.