Tom’s Talk — Sable antelopes, the showpiece of Kafue National Park, Zambia

Sara Drawwater
20 July 2011
If I were asked what animal is truly the show piece of the

If I were asked what animal is truly the show piece of the Kafue National Park wildlife, I would have no hesitation in saying, it is the proud and stately Sable antelope. The Sable from Kafue are highly sought after, both for photographic safari go-er’s, as well as trophy hunters. In fact, a world record Sable bull was hunted north of Kaingu Lodge in the Mumbwa Game Management Area just two years ago. This blog is dedicated to the details you may not know about the Sable, how it is a worthy member of the Zambian wildlife you ought to see and what the future holds for lone bulls and herds.

Some say that the Kafue sable is closely related to the Giant Sable found to the west in Angola. It was thought that these magnificent creatures were extinct, but a few remained, and a National Park has now been created to protect and hopefully breed up this remnant herd.

Sable are fairly common near Kaingu Lodge and are found throughout the Kafue National Park, as well as in the surrounding Game Management Area’s. Being “choosey” feeders they seek out the short, sweeter and more palatable grasses that is found in the tall miombo woodlands. So it is here that one must keep their eyes open to find herds of up to 50 animals. Lone bulls defending a territory are also quite common.

The Nanzhila plains and Busanga also have their fair share of Sable that tend to stay closer to the tree lines in these open grassy plains. Here they seek shelter when there is danger and they can escape from the hot sun in the middle of the day. Fortunately they are not very shy, especially in areas where they are not harassed and where they can hide amongst the trees. The proud herd bulls, pitch-black in color with white underbellies and their long curved horns, will stand and watch you almost as a challenge. Perhaps this is their undoing when being hunted by both man and nature’s predators.

Both the males and females carry horns, the female horns being straighter and thinner. The females and young animals are lighter in colour than the mature bulls. In contrast to the bulls, they are a rusty brown that results in them often being confused at a distance with Roan antelope that also have curved horns and are a similar size to Sables (to the inexperienced eye that is)!

I was once told by a guide that when approaching a herd of Sable on foot within a woodland, that, when they first see or smell you — stop and stand perfectly still in the shadows of the trees — wait until they settle down and start grazing again, then move forward again, diagonally across their path until they spot you again — again stop and wait. If you are lucky, as we were on one occasion, you could get to within 50 meters of them before they take fright and gallop off through the trees — usually they do not run far before settling down again.

One particular incident I remember well, was up at the Itezhi Tezhi road turn-off from the main M9 highway through the park that runs from Lusaka to Mongu. This road carries many trucks and buses that thunder through Kafue National Park at way over the speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour.

I saw this magnificent lone black Sable bull standing fairly close to the road, unperturbed by the traffic passing by. Fearing that he might be run over, I shouted at him, waved my arms and he just stood there, looking at me as if I was mad. He then dropped his head and calmly continued grazing. So I picked up some stones and hurled them at him, at which stage, to my relief, he calmly trotted off into the woodlands.

Sable and especially the Kafue Sable are highly sought after for game ranches in South Africa. So much so, that in order to generate some desperately needed revenue, the Zambian Wildlife Authority captured some of these animals and sold them to South African buyers at live game auctions. It goes without saying that Sable antelope with many other highly sought after Kafue National Park wildlife species, could be a very lucrative source of revenue for local communities that want to get into joint venture game ranching developments with prospective investors to breed up these animals for sale as live animals.

These ideas with a number of other community based natural resource projects are all in the pipeline for the ‘new look’ Kafue National Park that will hopefully, in the not too distant future, see the Kafue National Park once again become the ‘flagship’ park of Zambia.

Watch this space for more news about these plans and projects from the team at Kaingu Lodge in Kafue National Park.

The Tom’s Talk seriesThis is the third article in a series about happenings in and around Kaingu Lodge, Kafue National Park, Zambia.

1: Introducing Tom’s Talk from the Kafue National Park2: Tom’s Talk — Facelifts and new adventures at Kaingu, Kafue National Park, Zambia3: Tom’s Talk — Sable antelopes, the showpiece of Kafue National Park, Zambia

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