The Cape or Red hartebeest is found in Namibia, Botswana, the Cape and Gauteng provinces of South Africa.
In north Africa several subspecies occur. Pronounced differences in coloration, horn shape and size can cause considerable confusion in identification.
The red hartebeest stands at an average height of between 120 and 140cm and has an average weight of approximately 140kg. It is a tall, elegant antelope. Coloration of the smooth glossy coat varies from reddish brown to fawn or tawny depending on location. An extension of dark coloration extending from the shoulders to mid-back and down to the base of the tail is more noticeable in males. Both sexes have a well defined area of lighter yellow hair along the rump. Dark patches from the front of the shoulders extend down the front of the forelegs sometimes stopping short of the knees but in some cases might extend all the way to the hooves.
The forehead is black with a wide patch of red or brown across the face and between the eyes. There is a black band across the muzzle. The sides of the face and neck are lighter in shade with two narrow streaks of black joining to form a single stripe down the ridge of the neck. White hair covers the inside of the long pointed ears.
Both sexes carry horns although those of the male are heavier. Set close together at their base, they rise straight up level with the skull, curving forward and then backwards at right angles with ridges covering about two thirds of their length. The tips are smooth.
From the Angolan border they occur along a thin corridor south east through Namibia to the Botswana border. In Botswana they are widespread south of the Okavango and the Makgadikgadi Pan and the Cape are found along the northern border with Botswana. In Gauteng, harte-beest occur where they have been introduced by man. Transient popu-lations near the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe have been recorded from time to time.
Populations of the sub-species, (A. b. major - A b swaynei) occur in isolated populations in Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Preferring open country, hartebeest are found predominantly on grassland, floodplains, semi desert savanna and occasionally in open woodland. Hartebeest are water-dependent and as such their movements are controlled by its availability.
Hartebeest normally occur in small herds numbering on average 20 individuals as well as bigger herds with sometimes as many as 300 animals. In Botswana aggregations of 10 0 000 animals occur at certain times of the year. These congregations are usually made up of separate herds and occur between August and May but are more common during November and December.
Herds comprise a dominant bull controlling females, their off-spring and younger bulls. Vicious fighting, especially during the rut, takes place between bulls.
Hartebeest are more active during the cool temperatures of early morning and evening and during cold winter days will remain active for most of the day.
Their sense of hearing and smell are very good which makes up for their poor eyesight. When under threat hartebeest can generate considerable speed swerving off from side to side to confuse their pursuer.
Predominantly grazers, their diet consists of several grass species. During the dry, sparse period before the rainy season, they supplement their diet by browsing.
Rutting takes place during the winter months (March/April), but this can vary from place to place. A peak in calving occurs towards the end of September before the rainy season commences.
Towards the end of the gestation period, about 8 months, females leave the herd to find a secluded place to give birth. This is usually in tall grass or thick scrub. After a few days when the calf is strong enough to follow its mother, she will lead it back into the herd.
Calves start eating grass after about two weeks and will stop suckling at about seven or eight months.