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An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Subfamily Hippotraginae
Horse antelopes
The Hippotraginae (literally "horse-goats") have an overall horse-like build, but are named for the erect, horse-like mane which is found on the nape of the neck of most species. All eight Recent species are large antelopes with heavy torsos and thick necks. The sexes resemble each other closely in size and (generally) coloration. Both males and females possess long horns (either straight or arcing in form) with strong transverse ridges; the horns of males are generally thicker than those of females. There are vivid facial markings in most species. Juveniles of all species are born light tan all over, with only faint markings.

This subfamily is presently restricted to Africa (where they first appear in the fossil record 6.5 million years ago) and Arabia, although fossils have also been found in Europe and India from deposits 3-1.6 million years old. Kingdon (1997) hypothesized that the subfamily may have originated in Eurasia and then colonized Africa by crossing the Sahara Desert. The horse antelopes today include the most arid-adapted bovid species; no other artiodactyl has been able to challenge modern oryxes (Oryx sp.) and addax (Addax nasomaculatus) for the desert niche.

All Hippotraginae species are grazers, with high-crowned teeth designed for chewing tough, dry grasses. Species inhabit lightly wooded savannahs and arid lands across much of Africa and Arabia. One species of horse antelope - the blaubok (Hippotragus leucophaeus) - filled the horse antelope niche in southern Africa until being hunted to extinction around 1800.

The Hippotraginae Family Tree
Branch lengths are not proportional to time
(From Hernandez-Fernandez and Vrba, 2005)


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Addax nasomaculatus

Oryx dammah

Oryx beisa

Oryx gazella

Oryx leucoryx

Hippotragus niger

Hippotragus equinus

Hippotragus leucophaeus

Click on the species above to learn more,
or jump to the Hippotraginae Species List
Literature Cited

Estes, R. D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Hernandez-Fernandez, M., and E. S. Vrba. 2005. A complete estimate of the phylogenetic relationships in Ruminantia: a dated species-level supertree of the extant ruminants. Biological Review; 80: 269-302.

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.

Vrba, E. S., and G. B. Schaller. 2000. Phylogeny of Bovidae based on behavior, glands, skulls, and postcrania. In Antelopes, Deer, and Relatives. Edited by E.S.Vrba and G.B.Schaller. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. pp. 203-222.