Home | Ungulates | About Us | Glossary | Links | Search | Contact Us
An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Neotragus pygmaeus
Royal antelope
Click on the pictures above for larger views of the photographs
Quick Facts Detailed Information References




Neotragus pygmaeus [Linnaeus, 1758].
Citation: Syst. Nat., 10th ed., 1:69.
Type locality: "Guinea, India" (= west coast of Africa).

The taxonomic record (above) is taken from Wilson and Reeder (1993). Some authors eliminate the "a" in pygmaeus to form Neotragus pygmeus (see Wilson and Reeder, 1993). As one of the smallest living ungulates, it is perhaps not surprising that one initial description misidentified this species as a similarly-sized and shaped tragulid (Wilson and Reeder, 1993). The royal antelope is the only member of the subgenus Neotragus (see Nowak, 1991). The species is monotypic (no described subspecies) and has no synonyms (Wilson and Reeder, 1993).

Physical Characteristics

The tiny royal antelope has the distinction of being the smallest African ungulate and the smallest living bovid, and vies for the title of smallest ungulate with mouse deer (Tragulus) (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991). Adults are typically less than 3 kilograms in weight, 50 cm long, and 25 cm high at the shoulder.

Reported measurements for royal antelope (Neotragus pygmaeus)
Source Adult Weight Head & Body Length Shoulder Height Tail Length
Benirschke, 2005 2.45 kg
(pregnant )
- - -
Happold, 1973 2-3 kg 38-51 cm 25 cm 5-8 cm
Kingdon, 1997 1.5-3 kg 38-51 cm 24-26 cm 5-8 cm
Nowak, 1991 - 50 cm 25-30.5 cm 7.5 cm
Owen, 1973 2.4 kg 43 cm 26 cm 5 cm
Walther, 1990 1.8-2.5 kg 40-50 cm 25 cm 5-8 cm

The coat of N. pygmaeus is soft and sleek (Happold, 1973). The general coloration is a golden brown, cinnamon, or russet which grows slightly paler on the lower sides (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991; Kingdon, 1997). The underparts - including the chin, throat, and insides of the hind legs - are white (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991; Kingdon, 1997). Across the throat, the white coloration is bisected by a wide band of rufous brown (the same as the upperparts) like a collar (Happold, 1973; Kingdon, 1997). The tail is thin and small, being mostly white except for a thin stripe of color on the dorsal surface (Happold, 1973; Kingdon, 1997). The tail terminates with an entirely white tuft (Nowak, 1991).

The royal antelope has a compact build with thin, relatively long legs (Kingdon, 1997). The hind limbs are longer than forelimbs, and are typically tucked under the body, raising the hindquarters (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991). This provides a more streamlined shape, and enables the hind legs to provide tremendous thrusting force should the need to flee arise (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991). There is a white spot on the front surface of each leg, just above the hooves (Happold, 1973). N. pygmaeus lacks dewclaws (Nowak, 1991). Females have four teats (Walther, 1990; Nowak, 1991).

N. pygmaeus has no distinctive facial markings. The round, dark-brown eyes are large and preorbital glands are present (Owen, 1973; Walther, 1990; Kingdon, 1997). The muzzle is petite and the large rhinarium is grey-pink in color (Owen, 1973; Walther, 1990; Kingdon, 1997). The rounded ears are translucent, with the inner surface being flesh-colored (Owen, 1973; Kingdon, 1997). There is no tuft of hair on the forehead (Walther, 1990). Male royal antelope have one pair of short, conical horns (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991; Kingdon, 1997). Black in color and lacking any ridges, the smooth horns point backwards following the angle of forehead (Happold, 1973; Walther, 1990; Nowak, 1991). Like everything else with this species, the horns are small, growing only 1.2-2.5 cm (occasionally up to 3.5 cm) in length (Walther, 1990; Nowak, 1991).

Reproduction and Development

Little is known about the reproductive biology of the royal antelope. In the wild, births allegedly occur in November and December (Walther, 1990), a date supported by a month-old juvenile acquired by Owens (1973) in January 1970. The gestation period has not been measured; there is typically one young per litter (Walther, 1990; Benirschke, 2005). Walther (1990) gives the weight at birth as 0.8-1.0 kg - an unreasonably high figure considering that this is over one third of an adult's body weight; Benirschke (2005) estimated the birth weight of a captive-born youngster to be 300 grams or less. Young are fragile, and have the same coloration as adults (see Benirschke, 2005). The preorbital glands open at about three months of age (Owen, 1973).

Weaning reportedly occurs around 2 months of age (Owens, 1973; Walther, 1990; Kingdon, 1997). A young captive observed by Owens (1973) began ruminating at four months of age and had settled into a typical ruminant feeding pattern (eating quickly while food is available, then ruminating at a later time) by six months. Sexual maturity is attained after one year of age (Walther, 1990; Kingdon, 1997). Royal antelope appear to have short life spans: Jones (1993) reports the maximum age as 6 years, 8 months for a captive individual, although as of 2010 one captive was still living at ten years old (ISIS, 2010).


N. pygmaeus is a forest-dwelling species, typically found in rainforests, tropical dry forests, and galleries in forest-savannah mosaics (Kingdon, 1997; IUCN, 2004). Areas with dense undergrowth such as forest edges and clearings provide cover and are frequently used (Nowak, 1991; Kingdon, 1997). With increasing human encroachment into their natural habitat, royal antelope are now often found along road verges and cultivated lands (Kingdon, 1997; IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, 2008).

Ecologically, N. pygmaeus is believed to occupy a niche similar to the closely related Bates' antelope (Neotragus batesi), from the Central African forest block (Happold, 1973). Royal antelope are preyed upon by numerous predators - virtually anything larger than its diminutive size, including raptors and large snakes (Walther, 1990). No in-depth studies have been performed with this species, in part due to its shy and secretive nature; most of the information presented on its habits is drawn from anecdotes, inferences, and supposition (Nowak, 1991; IEA, 1998).

The diet of N. pygmaeus consists of fresh leaves, buds, and shoots (Kingdon, 1997). Fruits, fungi, and flowers are fed upon less frequently, and grasses and herbs are eaten only rarely (Walther, 1990; Nowak, 1991; Kingdon, 1997). The young captive observed by Owen (1973) preferred eating Blepharis maderaspatensis and Asystasia gangetica (Acanthaceae), and Tridax procumbens (Compositae) when given free range. Other plants were eaten in limited quantities, including grasses, sedges, Vernonia cinerea (Compositae), Canscora decussara (Gentianaceae), Alternanthera (Amarantaceae), Borreria (Rubiaceae), Desmodium (Papilionaceae), Euphorbia prostrata (Euphorbiaceae), and Solenostemon ocymoides (Labiatae). Although Kingdon (1997) reported that leaves are plucked using the mouth and long tongue, Owens (1973) observed leaves to be bitten cleanly off the parent plant, with the tongue playing a very minor roll in acquiring and chewing vegetation.


The royal antelope is frequently reported as being crepuscular and/or nocturnal, resting and ruminating during the day (Happold, 1973; Walther, 1990). Kingdon (1997), however, suggests that this species may forage throughout the day but is most easily seen in the beams of flashlights at night, when it will exit the forest to visit verges and farms (Kingdon, 1997). Reports that this species is solitary or lives in monogamous pairs are frequent (Walther, 1990; Kingdon, 1997). Pairs are reported to occupy small territories estimated to be only 100 square meters in size, which are marked with dung (Walther, 1990; Kingdon, 1997).

Royal antelope move with a high-stepping gait, constantly flicking their tail (Happold, 1973; Kingdon, 1997). If disturbed, the first response is to crouch and hide under cover (Happold, 1973). If the threat continues to approach, royal antelope will wait until it is nearly on top of them before taking flight (Nowak, 1991). This species can move very rapidly through dense cover, dodging and twisting and disappearing quickly from view (Happold, 1973; Nowak, 1991). There are two distinct methods of fleeing, either a fast run with the body held low to the ground and the head thrust forward or using powerful high jumps (Happold, 1973; Kingdon, 1997). The long hind legs provide incredible power, and N. pygmaeus is reported to leap as far as 2.8 meters in a single bound and as high as 55 cm from a standing start (Owen, 1973; Nowak, 1991).


N. pygmaeus is found in the Guinea forest block along the southern coast of west Africa (Owen, 1973). Specimens have been recorded at elevations up to 2,000 meters above sea level (Happold, 1973).

Countries: Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, 2008).

Range Map
(Redrawn from IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group, 2016)

Conservation Status

N. pygmaeus is a species of least concern according to the IUCN (IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, 2016), and is not listed by CITES (2009). The wild population has been estimated at 62,000 individuals (East, 1999), although the authors suggest that this may be a significant underestimate due to the difficulty of censusing such a shy creature. Royal antelope are threatened by persistent hunting - the species is targeted for bushmeat in Cote d'Ivoire, although cultural taboos against hunting the species in Liberia lend it some protection there (IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, 2008). Unlike many species, N. pygmaeus is able to  survive in small forest fragments and is frequently observed in agricultural areas (IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, 2008).


In folklore of Liberia, the royal antelope is a figure renowned for its speed and wiseness (Nowak, 1991). Because of its size and habits, it is known locally as the "King of the Hares", and it is apparently from this kingly appellation that the common name "royal antelope" was derived (Gotch, 1995)

The genus name Neotragus is from the Greek words neos (meaning new) and tragos (a he-goat). The English word pygmy, as well as the species name pygmaeus, can be traced to the Greek word pugme, "a fist"; hence pugmaios (Greek) means "as small as a fist" (Gotch, 1995).

Local names
Adowa [Twi] (Happold, 1973)
Sagbene [Dyula] (Happold, 1973)
Antilope royale (Happold, 1973)
Kleinstböckchen (Happold, 1973)
Quick Facts Detailed Information References