Red Lechwe

Red lechwe or lechwe are medium-sized antelopes of the Bovidae family found in the floodplains and southern savannas of Africa. Also known as Southern lechwe, they are well adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle, thriving in marshy areas. They are one of three antelope species (besides Kob and Topi) that typically form breeding arenas or leks for mating.

Scientific Classification

K. leche
Kobus leche

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

K. leche
Kobus leche

They have chestnut-colored bodies with white bellies and dark legs well-equipped with waterproof coats for foraging through water in search of food. The males are easily identified by their long, spiral horns that resemble lyres and are found to be larger than their female counterparts. 


There are four known subspecies of Red lechwe.

  • Common Red lechwe (Kobus leche leche)
  • Kafue Flats lechwe (Kobus leche kafuensis)
  • Roberts’ lechwe (Kobus leche robertsi) (Extinct)
  • Black lechwe (Kobus leche smithemani)
Red Lechwe



Length: Body – 90 to 100 cm (35 to 39 inches); Horn – 45 to 90 cm (18 to 35 inches)

Weight: 50 to 120 kg (110 to 260 lbs)

Body and Coloration:

Red lechwe are golden brown with white bellies, throats, and underparts. The males (rams) have strikingly long, lyre-shaped horns darker than the females (ewes). Both sexes have blackish legs and reddish markings on their bodies; however, the degree of shade varies among its subspecies.

Red Lechwe Male vs Female


They are native to south-central Africa, including the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Kafue Flats and Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia, northeastern Namibia, eastern Angola, and the southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. 


They prefer living in wetlands and marshy habitats surrounding the waterbodies like meadows, lagoons, and floodplains. During extreme flooding, red lechwe seek shelter in light woodlands.


These antelopes are obligate herbivores, feeding on aquatic plants and floodplain grasses that remain mostly unexplored by other herbivores. The amount of water they consume depends on the temperature and humidity of the region in which they reside.

Red Lechwe Antelope
Images of Red Lechwe


  • Red lechwe are diurnal and social animals that prefer foraging at dawn and early morning hours in herds, which may include thousands of individuals. These herds contain members of only one sex, though males and females gather in the breeding season for mating. The female herds, including calves, have no specific leader and prefer staying close to wet areas, whereas the males, when not competing for territories in a rut, usually live away from the water source in bachelor herds.
  • The roughly circular breeding arenas or ‘leks’ (0.5 km) are built during the breeding season, just before mating. However, the boundaries of these leks vary due to the intensity of the annual floods, often migrating long distances (around 80 km) on the inundated African floodplains to adapt to the fluctuating water levels.


They live for about 15 years in the wild and may survive up to 20 years in captivity.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Breeding usually occurs between November and February, peaking during early monsoon rains. The females reach sexual maturity when they are about 1.5 years old, whereas the males take around five years to mature. On the first day of their estrus cycle, the females enter the lek to mate with one or more males (polyandry), where about 100 males display to the approaching females. Although the same dominant males usually mate every time, they are often replaced by other bachelor males if they lose stamina (Estes, 1991).

After a gestation period of 7 to 8 months, the female gives birth to a calf individually or in small groups, around dry areas where the calf is kept out of sight in clumps of bushes for the next 2 or 3 weeks. The calves suckle in the early and late hours of the day and are usually weaned at 5-6 months, after which they form groups of around 50 young, completely independent of their mothers.

Red Lechwe Pictures
Lechwe Baby


Their natural predators include lions, leopards, cheetahs, spotted hyenas, African dogs, and reptiles like crocodiles and pythons.


Their limbs are covered with a water-repellent substance that helps them run fast in knee-deep water if confronted by a predator. The hindlimbs are longer than other antelopes, an adaptation for covering long distances in marshy soil for food. When needed, they can also swim across deep-water areas. 

Conservation Status

Based on their assessment in 2016, the IUCN Red Data List considered red lechwe as Near Threatened (NT), and their current population number is around 80,000. They are also listed under Appendix II by CITES.

About a century ago, their population was over half a million, but it abruptly declined during the 1970s and 1980s due to the increased construction of hydroelectric dams that altered their seasonal floodplain habitats. Currently, the major threats to these antelopes include poaching for meat, severe droughts, and competition with livestock for access to grazing grounds. Although unrestricted hunting would mean a further fall in their number, they continue to get hunted for their horns in some areas of the United States, like Texas and some parts of South Africa.

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