Kobus lechelechwe

Geographic Range

Lechwe are found in the southern savanna in Africa. The population is centered in Zambia, but small populations of lechwe are found along rivers in Zambia, Angola, and Botswana (Estes, 1991).


Lechwe prefer areas of the flood plains that border swamps because they are close to water and food. The largest populations can be found on flat plains where the wet meadow is maintained throughout the flood cycle. When there is extreme flooding, lechwe take refuse in the woodlands (Estes, 1991).

Physical Description

Lechwe are medium-sized antelopes, with heights ranging from 90 - 112 cm. The color of the lechwe is chestnut with white underparts, throat, and facial markings. Males darken with age. Lechwe have dark leg and body markings, and these markings vary in color, from black to red, and are noticeable between the different subspecies. The horns of the lechwe range in length from 45 - 92 cm and are relatively thin. Their hooves are adapted for swampy terrain. While lechwe do not have scent glands, their coats are greasy and have a distinct odor (Estes, 1991).

  • Range mass
    61.6 to 128 kg
    135.68 to 281.94 lb


Lechwe breed in a two and a half month period during the rains, which is usually between November and February. Females are able to breed as early as one and a half years of age but males are not mature until five years of age. The gestation period is seven to eight months, and two thirds of the calves are born in a two month peak, from mid-July to mid-September on the Kafue Flats. When the mothers give birth, they either do so singly or in small groups. Calves are born in covered and dry areas and remain concealed for two to three weeks. Mothers suckle their young both early and late in the day. Once they are done hiding, young calves form groups of up to 50 young, which are mainly independent of their mothers. Calves are weaned in five to six months (Estes, 1991).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 1
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    7.17 to 8.27 months
  • Range weaning age
    5 to 6 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    898 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1050 days
  • Parental Investment
  • extended period of juvenile learning



Male and female lechwe remain separated from each other most of the year. Some males are strongly territorial for part of the year. Females and calves depend on water and are commonly found near wet areas, while males do not require as much water and are found at greater distances from water sources. Males compete for their territories during the rut. The rest of the year they remain in bachelor herds. Female herds are very open and are always changing. There is no definite leader in the female groups. Within these groups, there is not any connection between individuals except for mothers and calves that are in their first year. Lechwe are active in the hours before sunrise and for several hours afterwards. During the breeding season, breeding areas known as leks are formed. These are not fixed in the same place from year to year because of the inconsistency of the flooding cycle. The breeding peak is in the early rains. Females enter the lek on their first day of estrus and mate with one or more males. A few males dominate the mating but lose stamina and are replaced (Estes, 1991).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Lechwe eat nutritious grasses that are found in flooded meadows. In order to get to their food, lechwe will feed in water up to their bellies. During the cool dry weather, they do not have to drink, but in the dry hot weather, they may need to drink up to three times a day (Estes, 1991).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Lechwe have been hunted and poached by humans for profit (Estes, 1991). Also, lechwe are one of many African mammals that are a tourist attraction (Stuart and Stuart, 1995).

Conservation Status

Lechwe are listed under the following: CITES - Appendix II; US ESA - Threatened; and IUCN - Vulnerable (Wilson, 1993). A century ago, the lechwe poplulation may have numbered half a million, but it has been dropping ever since then. The greatest change was between 1971 - 1987. This was due to the building of hydroelectric dams that changed the natural flooding cycle. Even poaching of these animals did not cause considerable damage to the population (Estes, 1991).


Toni Lynn Newell (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide of African Mammals. The University of California Press. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London.

Stuart, C.T. and M.D. Stuart. 1995. Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa. Strurk Publishers (Pty) Ltd. Cape Town.