African Waterbuck

Waterbuck, Kafue NP, Zambia, Africa

Waterbuck, Kafue NP, Zambia, Africa

Waterbucks are large African antelope that live south of the Sahara Desert.  They are cloven-hoofed ruminant mammals in the same family as domestic cattle (Bovidae).


Exclusive to Africa, there are 13 subspecies grouped into two races,  common and defassa.  Where the two races overlap there are hybrids.


Waterbuck herd, Kafue NP, Zambia

Waterbuck herd, Kafue NP, Zambia

A grazing mammal that also requires drinking water every day or two, waterbuck are found near water in savannah and grasslands.  Some grazing antelope, like sable, can eat grass and leaves for long periods of time without water; this makes their needs less particular.  Waterbuck are not this way, they are reliant on grass as well as water.


Waterbuck lack speed and endurance.  They depend on tall grass and woody vegetation for refuge from predators.  In the dangerous wilds of Africa, lion, leopard, hyena, and wild dogs prey on waterbuck.


Like many antelope, Kobus ellipsiprymnus are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning the male looks different than the female.  Males are taller and heavier than females, and have ridged horns with a sweeping backward arc.  The males weigh 500+ pounds each (226 kg), and females slightly less.  For more info, click here.


Both genders have shaggy coarse hair, reddish-brown or gray coats, and white facial markings and underparts.  The most distinguishing feature is the white rump patch (on the defassa) or elliptical rump ring (on common).


Waterbuck, Chobe River, Bostwana, Africa

Waterbuck, Chobe River, Bostwana, Africa

There are 72 different species of antelope in Africa.  Across a savannah populated by many different antelope species, it is the white rump markings that readily identify the waterbuck.


Defined as “sedentary” for not migrating, waterbuck are also territorial.  They have a social structure involving female herds, bachelor herds, and mixed family groups of up to 30.  Bachelor herds have a distinct social hierarchy based on size and strength, with various performance contests and displays.


They live approximately 18 years in the wild, with females giving birth to only one calf per season.  Although their conservation status is listed as “least concern,” the population is trending downward due to hunting and habitat loss.


Chobe River, Botswana, Africa

Chobe River, Botswana, Africa

Sometimes safari observers overlook waterbuck in lieu of psychedelic zebras or exotic elephants.  But sometimes it is just nice to sit and watch the waterbuck.


Actually, it is a sublime pleasure and honor to find waterbuck quietly grazing along the Chobe River.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


53 thoughts on “African Waterbuck

  1. These antelopes are easy mark for the predators because of their predictability to be found, low tier on the natural food pyramid. Unfortunately, same as cows vs. humans! Thank you Jet! 🙂

    • That’s right, HJ. And unfortunately, the elliptical rump markings on the common waterbuck look exactly like a bulls-eye! Thanks so much for your visit, my friend, and have a great week. 🙂

  2. Once again a blog filled with fascinating information. I am particularly interested in the social structure….and the photographs are wonderful….You do get to visit some amazing places….which pleases me greatly, because through you, I also get to visit. Janet:)

    • I am grateful for your warm comment, Janet, and am so happy to share this beautiful place in the world with you. It is such a big and vast world, impossible to see it all, and wonderful how easy it has become to share with others over the internet. Always a deep pleasure to share with you. 🙂

  3. What leapt to mind upon seeing the beautiful photos were scenes of lions chasing these beauties in footage from Africa with me always cheering for the underdog. Now I know the name of who to encourage to run faster. Go African Waterbuck go!!

    • I watch those shows too, Sue. I close my eyes and speed through the gruesome parts, but not so easy to do in real life. I chuckled at your great comment — thanks for bringing a smile to my face. 😀

  4. This is an interesting breed Jet. I didn’t know about the Waterbuck and was surprised to read because of their water requirements they are easy pickings of their prey. A beautiful animal – thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

    • In the African landscape, just about everyone is easy pickings to someone else. Only elephants, by their sheer size, are feared; but they have to worry about their vulnerable young offspring. I am really glad to introduce you to the waterbuck today, Mary — thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

    • Humans are definitely a predator they have to watch out for. Even when we were in a park that was protected, all the animals there were super skittish because years ago it had not been protected. I’m glad to have you visit today, Jan — thank you. 🙂

  5. I really enjoy learning the Waterbucks from you. Great photos and info of this special animal. The social structure is very interesting.
    Thank you, Jet!

  6. Loved learning about the waterbuck today! They look so sturdy in the photographs, but I guess they are a meal other animals. That’s fine, but why on earth shoot one for sport? Anyway, another wonderful post, thank you!

    • I am so very happy that you enjoyed learning about the waterbuck today, pc. Teachers are fun to teach, so enthusiastic. And I’m skirting the sports hunting issue here because it just gets me going, but I am definitely thinking what you’re thinking. Thanks, as always, my friend. 🙂 (I stopped using your name bec I noticed you don’t have it up anywhere on your website, don’t want to blow your cover.)

  7. So much to learn from this wonderful Waterbuck post,dear Jet!Astounding details on the species and fascinating photos that make clear your account.I so much liked the first photo that it has turned its head towards Athena,the photographer,and that the elliptical rump ring is so distinguishable!The profile one standing in the middle of the river is also interesting,it displays so many features of the species!What a pity they cannot speed up and escape their enemies 😦 Beautiful the herb photos as well and in particular the one that shows them grazing near Chobe River.They can easily have access to fresh water,which they need,after finishing with their “grass-dinner”.Their distinctive social structure is another fabulous characteristic that shows once more the wonderful world of the animal kingdom 🙂 Have a beautiful day,dear friend Jet (^v^)x

    • How wonderful to receive this kind message, dear Doda. I really like that first photo too, where the waterbuck happened to be sticking out his tongue. Usually waterbuck are very far back from the road, and they are skittish too, so capturing a good photo is a challenge. I am grateful for your attention to detail and your thoughts here. Spending time at the Chobe River was one of my favorite things to do on that trip, and you can see why, with this open landscape, an abundant water source, and so many different kinds of wildlife. It was an honor to share it with you. ~~*\/*~~ ♥♥♥

      • Thanks for mentioning about his pinkish tongue,now,that I clicked on the photo to enlarge it,it is so clearly shown and it’s fun!I didn’t really notice it,I focused on the white elliptical ring on his coat and the eye contact he had with the photographer.It’s like observing a painting,every time you come back you spot more and more …Oh sweet Waterbuck,he didn’t want to tease Athena,he wanted just to thank and amuse her 🙂 Thank you Jet my friend.Some more sunshine for the day ☀ ☀ ☀ ☀ xxx

      • How fun to look at it from the waterbuck’s perspective — yes, he was amusing the photographer, and now he amuses us too. So very fun. Thank you so much for your kind words, and effervescent sunshine, dear Doda. {*l*} ♥

  8. No idea there were so many kinds of antelope… the more I learn about animals in the wild (or even in protected areas) the more I realize how important it is to preserve land for them to live on. Unfortunately, that is true locally as well where their habitat becomes crowded with houses and freeways… and people wonder why they are being “invaded” by coyotes and bears in their yards.

    • Thanks Rosyln, you bring up such an excellent point. It is so important to preserve land for wild animals too, espec. now when urban areas are expanding and the wild habitat, as you point out, is disappearing. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

    • Among the exotic wild safari animals of Africa, waterbuck are not usually highlighted. So I was glad to give them the spotlight, and really glad I was able to introduce you to this wonderful creature. Thanks so much, Jeannie. 🙂

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