An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Alcelaphinae
            Genus: Damaliscus

Damaliscus lunatus



Damaliscus lunatus [Burchell, 1823].  
Citation: Travels in Interior of Southern Africa, 2:334 [1824].
Type locality: South Africa, Cape Province, Matlhawareng River, NE of Kuruman.

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 150-205 cm / 5-6.8 ft.
Shoulder Height: 100-130 cm / 3.3-4.3 ft.
Tail Length: 40-60 cm / 1.3-2 ft.
Weight: 75-160 kg / 165-352 lb..

The coat varies in colour from tan to deep reddish or even purple-brown, and is very glossy and almost on the verge of being iridescent.  Young are born with a sandy brown coat.  The slender legs of adults are light tan on their lower half, while the upper legs are black.  This darker coloration extends upwards onto the shoulders and lower haunches, often appearing grey under strong sunlight.  There is a distinct, although not over-pronounced, hump above the shoulders which marks the highest point on the topi's body. The back generally slopes downwards from the shoulders towards the rump, although there is considerable variation in this respect.  The rump and tail are lighter in colour, and the tail ends in a brush-like black tuft.  The face is elongated and fairly narrow, set on a relatively short neck.  The entire front of the face, in a stripe with considerable spread across the nose-bridge, is black, with the exception of the tan-coloured lips.  The ears are very slender, with litle change in width along their length.  The lyre-shaped horns are found in both sexes and are strongly ridged for their entire length, with the exception of the very tips.  There is not considerable difference in the horns between the sexes, and they may grow up to 72 cm / 2.4 feet long.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 7.5-8 months.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: After 4 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 1.5-2 years, males at 3-4 years.
Life span: 12-15 years, and will end with the animals teeth falling out if they are not depredated before this stage.

Births occur during well-defined periods of time, which varies among populations but are generally between July and December.  Topi have evolved so as to be able to stall the labour process in the event of a threat.  Young topi lay hidden for a few days before following their mothers, but will rest more frequently than adults.  Often, similarly aged calves will form a kindergarten, which may be guarded by a single female while the other mothers spread out to graze.

Ecology and Behavior

Topi are most famous for their sentry position, in which a single animal will stand on a termite mound for hours surveying the surrounding territory.  Termite mounds are also a favourite resting area, and topi may even doze off while lying on these raised platforms.  Adult males hold territories which vary dramatically in size from 1-3 hectares in southern Africa to a recorded 400 hectares in Kruger National Park.  Generally, smaller territories are only held briefly during the breeding season.  A male will mark his personal range with urine, dung piles, digging up the soil with his horns, and by smearing secretions from his preorbital glands on vegetation.  Competition betwen rival males consists primarily of posturing and ritualistic sparring with the horns, which involves crashing their horns together as both lunge forward to their knees.  During the breeding season, a territorial bull is readily recognized by his erect posture, with his head held high above his body.  If alarmed suddenly, topi may actually jump over one another in their haste to flee the area.  While they generally run at a jog, if pressed they may reach speeds in excess of 70 kmph / 44 mph.  While on the move, topi have the odd habit of bobbing their heads, which has been suggested to be a "let's go!" motion derived from a threat gesture.

Family group: Mature males solitary, or loosely associated with a group of 8-20 females and their young.  Bachelor males between 1 and 4 years of age form small bachelor herds.  Large migratory herds of several thousand animals also form among certain populations.
Diet: Grasses, very rarely leaves.  Topi drink daily if possible, but can go for long periods without water.
Main Predators: Lion, leopard, cheetah, Cape hunting dog.


Savannas, floodplains, and semideserts throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Range Map (Redrawn from IEA, 1998)

Conservation Status

The topi is considered a low risk, conservation dependent species by the IUCN (1996).  D. l. jimela, D. l. lunatus, and D. l. topi are all considered to be low risk, conservation dependent subspecies, while D. l. tiang is considered to be a low risk, near threatened subspecies.  D. l. korrigum is classified as vulnerable.


Topi is a native name of Mande origin, akin to ndope,  meaning an antelope.  However, this antelope has many other monikers, including (but not limited to) sassaby, tsessebe, korrigum, and tiang.  Damalis (Greek) a young cow, a heifer; -iscus (L) diminutive suffix.  Luna (Latin) the moon; -atus (Latin) suffix meaning provided with: together meaning crescent-shaped, possibly a reference to the shape of the horns.

Literature Cited

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology).  1998.  Damaliscus lunatus.  In African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 and 2. Bruxelles: European Commission Directorate. Available online at

Kingdon, J.  1997.  The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.  Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Walther, F. R. 1990.  Hartebeests.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 418-436.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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