What’s a Hartebeest?

I’ve always been a bit confused about the hartebeest and the tsessebe, which I thought must be closely related.

This weekend we saw a nice herd of hartebeest on the slopes of Platberg in the pine forest, so I thought I must look into this.

And its quite complicated!

As always with classification you get ‘lumpers’ who say ‘They’re the same,’ and ‘splitters’ who say ‘No! Look, it’s a different colour.’ I’ve been a lumper by nature meself, needing real DNA differences before I’d want to say something was a completely different species, no matter how different they look. Hunters are often splitters, wanting to say they shot a red bushbuck and a grey bushbuck and a brown bushbuck; or a brindled wildebeest and a Cookson’s wildebeest; or a Burchell’s zebra and a Crawshay’s zebra; and if you have the money they’ll even sell you a ‘Blue,’ a ‘Golden’ and a ‘King’s’ wildebeests – all on the same farm!

DNA has helped a lot – it’s harder for people to ‘invent’ species now. But even now, debate continues and not everyone agrees on all sub-species vs separate species!

So let’s start with a family of big well-known mammals – the Bovidae, which evolved 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene. Cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals, including domestic cattle, sheep and goats. A member of this family is called a bovid; the family Bovidae consists of eight major subfamilies with about 143 species.

The subfamily I’m interested in here, where the hartebeest fits, is called Alcelaphinae, which has four genera:

  • Genus Beatragus
    • Hirola, Beatragus hunteri – very rare, found in Kenya and Ethiopia.
  • Genus Damaliscus
    • Tsessebe, Damaliscus lunatus
    • Bontebok, Damaliscus pygargus
  • Genus Alcelaphus
    • Hartebeest, Alcephalus buselaphus
  • Genus Connochaetes
    • Black wildebeest, Connochaetes gnou
    • Blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus

Things that fascinated me in looking this up:

The hartebeest has only one species, with eight sub-species (although some splitters will dispute this; some like two species, some like three – adding a Liechtenstein’s and a Bangweulu Hartebeest).

The tsessebe is closer to the blesbok than the hartebeest. Except there’s no blesbok! Those buck we saw on top of Platberg? They’re sub-species of the bontebok.

The kudu, nyala, sitatunga, bongo and bushbuck spiral-horned antelope are closer to the cattle, bison and buffalo than they are to other antelope.

The impala is all on its own. Its closest relative being the rare and shy suni.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Not easy, and this with only 143 species. Imagine how hard it is to classify the small mammals: like mice – there are about 2200 species of rodents; and 1200 bats. Never mind plants!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mankind!

The northernmost hartebeest – the bubal hartebeest – was found in Morocco and Algeria, north of the Atlas Mountains. The subspecies declined sharply during the course of the 19th century, especially after the French conquest of Algeria, when entire herds were massacred at once by the colonial military. By 1867 it could only be found in the mountain ranges of north-western Africa that are near or within the Sahara desert. In Morocco the last known herd, numbering only 15 animals, was located by a hunter near Outat El Haj in 1917; He shot twelve of them. The last specimen was ‘collected’ in 1920. The bubal hartebeest was finally ‘protected’ under the London Convention of 1933. Too late . . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

wikipedia

Published by bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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