This is a large and handsome antelope. Sable are characterised by glossy black coats with white under parts and white facial markings. Cows and young are dark brown in colour. Both sexes have stiff black manes along the dorsal aspects of their necks. The shoulder height of bulls is 1.4 m, which weigh up to 270 Kg. Cows are slightly smaller. Both sexes have long horns, which are ridged, and which curve backwards. Tips of horns are smooth and sharp pointed. The scimitar-shaped horns of mature bulls can be up to 1.2 m in length. Horns on females are shorter and slimmer. Ears are brick red at the back and shorter than that of the roan antelope. The horn of young become visible at the age of two months.
Their diet consists predominantly of grass. They favour speargrass, red grass and various species of Brachiaria, Urochloa and Panicum. A variety of sedges are also taken around water points. This is a grazer of climax vegetation, which crops grass at a relatively high level off the ground. A fair amount of bones of carcasses left in the veld, are chewed to counter phosphorous deficiencies.
Cows first become sexually receptive at the age of three years, and would drop their first calves at the age of three years. After a gestation period of 270 days they give birth to single calves weighing 17 Kg at birth. Calves are hidden in tall grass for the first two weeks, during which time they are visited by their mothers for suckling and grooming. Calves show an interest in grass at an early stage, and are fully weaned at eight months.
Sable are most active during early mornings and late afternoons, and drink water at mid-day. This is a gregarious antelope, showing great variation in herd sizes. During the calving season small groups with pregnant cows separate from larger groups consisting of young and non-breeding animals. During late winter large herds congregate on bunt areas or moist vleis. Territorial bulls will evict young bulls from breeding groups when they become sexually mature at the age of three years.
They prefer open savannah woodlands or moist vleis, in which they select for medium height, good quality grass cover.
Where they are found
The historic range of Sable is much reduced today. In South Africa the distributional stronghold of this rare and endangered antelope is in the Kruger National Park. It is also seen in other protected areas to which Sable have been reintroduced, or introduced in areas where they have never occurred previously.