Lechwe Fact File
Wild 20 years
Captive 20 years
Aquatic plants, Grass
The lechwe is a medium sized antelope found across parts of Central Africa. Here they are associated with water and have a range of adaptations which help them to spend their life here.
In the water they will seek out aquatic plants on which they can feed.
For most of the year males will travel alone while females and their young spend their time as part of a herd. During the breeding season males form a territory in to which they gather a number of females.
Poaching along with habitat alteration, mainly to build hydroelectric dams has led to a reduction in their population across parts of their range.
Read on to learn more about these amazing antelopes.
Lechwe are medium sized antelopes. They have a light reddish-brown, chestnut or black coat across the back with white on the underside and black down the legs. The coat of male will grow darker as they age. Around the eye is a patch of white fur.
The hairs along the bottom portion of the legs are covered by waterproof oils which prevent them becoming waterlogged.
Protruding from the heads of males are a pair of horns which feature rings along their length. Females lack these horns.
At the end of the body is a short tail which measure 10-45cm (4-18in) long. This is tipped with black fur and is white on the underside.
Their hooves are long and flattened, an adaptation which helps to carry them across soft, waterlogged ground.
An average lechwe will measure 1.3 to 1.8m(4.25-6ft) long with a height at the shoulder of 1m (3.3ft) tall. They have an average weight of 79 to 103kg(175-230lbs).
Lechwe are herbivores which primarily graze for food. They make use of aquatic and floodplain grasses.
These animals require water on a regular basis.
Africa is the native home of the lechwe. Here they can be found in the center of the continent through the following countries – Angola; Botswana; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Namibia and Zambia.
Lechwe are primarily found near wetlands. They spend their time around shallow water of floodplains and swamps. Lechwe may also move in to nearby woodlands and grasslands.
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Breeding occurs during the rainy season which runs from December to May.
Males will establish their own territory which is known as a lek. He will then aim to bring a number of females in to this territory often through harassing. Immature males have less breeding success.
A single calf is born after an eight month gestation period. The mother will move to a covered and dry area to give birth. She leaves her calf here for 2-3 weeks returning often to suckle it.
Young will leave hiding and join a group with other calves. They are weaned after 4 months.
The young are referred to as lambs.
Maturity is reached at 2 years old for females with males maturing at 5 years old.
Lechwe spend much of their time near the water.
Much of their activity takes place in the hour before sunrise and for a period of time after sunrise. They will rest during the heat of the day.
Females and young will move around as part of a herd and are typically found closer to water. Males are primarily solitary but may move in small bachelor herds outside of the breeding season.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the lechwe include lions, African wild dogs, crocodiles, pythons. spotted hyenas and leopards.
Their main defense when a predator approaches is to flee to the water where they can easily run. Females and young tend to spend more time near water where they are offered protection.
Humans have affected their population through poaching for meat which has caused the species to disappear from parts of its range.
Other environmental factors such as drought and disruption to the natural flood patterns in their range have also led to decline. A major portion of these disruptions come from the construction of hydroelectric dams.
Livestock present a competitor in parts of their range.
Some lechwe have been subject to sustainable harvesting and their value for meat and sport hunting may eventually aid conservation of the species.
The current population is estimated at 212,000 individuals. Most populations are stable or increasing though some groups of red and black lechwe have been declining.
Five subspecies of the lechwe have been recognized. These are the Kafue lechwe, black lechwe, red lechwe, Upemba lechwe and the extinct Robert’s lechwe.
Lechwe are also known as marsh antelope due to their habitat.
The name lechwe comes from a word with Bantu origins meaning antelope.
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