Can’t Take My Eyes off of You: The Tragic Lives, and Loves, of Sable Antelopes

Written by Thomson Safaris

Male sable antelopes maintain an awkward, flexed-neck posture even when galloping. It makes them appear more physically imposing, subtly asserting their right to rule.
“Sable bull” by Paulmaz at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

There are a few infamous star-crossed lovers whose names everyone recognizes: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde…

…Sable Antelope and Lady Sable Antelope?

Perhaps you haven’t heard of that last pair, but their story is fraught with drama, danger, and sometimes, tragedy.

Sable antelopes—an imposing species crowned with ringed, curving horns that are highly prized by poachers (one of many potential tragedies sables face)—share a social structure common to many grazing species, where one bull leads a herd of between 10 and 30 females (sometimes called a “harem”) and their young. When young males near maturity, the dominant bull ejects them from the herd, fearing their threat to his power.

As in so many of the great tragedies, though, an iron grip on power can be the king’s…er, bull’s…downfall.

Young, dispossessed males congregate in “bachelor herds,” where they’ll jockey for dominance among themselves. The strongest of the group may challenge an established male to a sort of antelopian duel, where both animals bend to their knees and attack each other with their deadly horns. Often the result is simply embarrassment for the loser, but occasionally, the winner leaves his opponent bloodied as well as shamed.

But no tragedy is complete without an ill-fated love story, and for some unlucky sable antelopes, what starts as infatuation ends in misery, even death.

Though the males are territorial, and constantly angling for dominance, they’re also romantics at heart. So much so that when a wandering female herd enters his territory, a male will become so engrossed in keeping the ladies around that he’ll ignore everything else…even serious, potentially-deadly predators.

Of course even this mournful end to a budding romance has a silver lining; the males who are injured or killed because of the excess of their passions may not get to enjoy the love they so ardently hope for…but we have to believe the ladies—and audiences everywhere—carry a torch for them ever after.