Tsessebe (sometimes called topi) are rather odd-looking animals. They’d certainly be the last you’d pick out in a crowd as being the fastest antelope in the bushveld. Their rather picky eating habits and habitat requirements have meant that their numbers are decreasing. Keep a sharp eye out for them.

Did you know?

Territorial tsessebe males seldom fight each other, preferring to cavort and touch horns.

Looking at a tsessebe (sometimes called topi), you’d be astonished to discover it is generally considered the fastest antelope in the African bushveld.

It looks somewhat clumsy, with high, humped shoulders sloping down to unexceptional hindquarters.

When danger threatens, it speeds away with the herd, but has a peculiar habit of then stopping to see how far away its pursuer is.

A red-brown coat with a slight purplish sheen over its shoulders and rump only adds to its somewhat eccentric look.

Territorial males are fond of standing on termite mounds or higher ground and surveying their territory. They also parade like sergeant-majors in front of their females, high-stepping and pointing their noses in the air.

You’ll often see tsessebe with their faces and horns covered in mud. They have a special relationship with the stuff, loving nothing better after rains than to rub their faces in it, and then to indulge in a bit of ‘horn-ploughing’.

The resultant mud-pack makes their horns look much more impressive. You might think that it’s a male-boasting thing, but the females do it, too – although less often.

Another rather odd thing about tsessebe is that they sleep or doze in little groups, standing with their heads nodding. But if they’re really tired, they lie down on their chests and rest their mouths on the ground – vaguely resembling hammers at rest.

Tsessebe are generally found in small herds in medium-length grass. Their favourite food is fresh, green grass stalks, which is why they’re often found in recently burnt areas where new grass is springing up.

They also enjoy other areas with green grass, beside lakes, within wetlands and along floodplains beside meandering rivers.

In South Africa, their very exacting habitat and diet requirements have resulted in their numbers decreasing dramatically.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Email: reservations@sanparks.org

Tswalu Kalahari game reserve
Tel: +27 (0)53 781 9331
Email: res@tswalu.com

How to get here

You can see tsessebe at the Ithala Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in the Kruger National Park, and at Tswalu Kalahari game reserve in the Northern Cape.

Best time to visit

Tsessebe, like many other antelope, have their babies in the spring, from August to October. Long-legged, wobbly and pale brown, they are the dearest sight.

Tours to do

Ask your field guide about seeing tsessebe. They’re not as charismatic as the members of the Big 5 or other wild African animals like giraffe, and are in most cases, more difficult to see.

Get around

You can drive yourself around the Kruger National Park and Ithala, but you should take a guided game drive for a better chance of seeing them.

Length of stay

A 2-night stay at a game reserve gives you a fair chance of seeing much game. But to see special animals like tsessebe, you may want to stay longer.

Where to stay

The Kruger National Park, Ithala Game Reserve and Tswalu Kalahari all have accommodation, although the latter is by far the most luxurious and pricey.