The Red Lechwe (Kobus leche) is a heavily built antelope that is notable for its splayed, elongated hooves (which are generally hidden from view in water, mud, or grass). The eyes are widely spaced and the male has long horns that sweep back and are heavily annulated (i.e., with conspicuous ring-like divisions).
Red Lechwe are found in scattered locations in eastern Angola, eastern Namibia, northern Botswana, and western Zambia. They inhabit seasonal floodplains and shallow swamps adjacent to open water. The interface between inundated and dry grasslands is the most heavily used habitat. They tend to avoid woodlands and are rarely found in water deeper than 50 cm. They can move efficiently through flooded terrain using a bounding gait whereby all four feet touch the ground and leave the ground together. On hard ground, they are slow and clumsy. Lechwes are closely tied to swampy floodplains by their physiology and soft hooves. When water levels are low, predation by Lions (Panthera leo) and African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) increases.
Kobus leche was long treated as a single species including as subspecies K. l. leche, K. l. kafuensis, and K. l. smithemani, but these taxa were treated by Cotterill (2005) and Huffman (2011) as full species, along with the closely related and newly recognized K. anselli.
Throughout much of the range of this species, populations have been decimated by unsustainable hunting, but they tend to do well in protected areas. Around 98,000 individuals are believed to exist in the wild, around 85% of them in the Okavango Delta of Botswana.
(Kingdon 1997; Cotterill 2005; Huffman 2011)
- Cotterill, F.P.D. 2005. The Upemba lechwe, Kobus anselli: an antelope new to science emphasizes the conservation importance of Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo. Journal of Zoology 265: 113-132.
- Huffman, B.A. 2011. Red Lechwe (Kobus leche). P. 671 in: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Kingon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego.
Lechwe are found in the southern savanna in Africa. The population is centered in Zambia, but small populations of lechwe are found along rivers in Zambia, Angola, and Botswana (Estes, 1991).
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
The Kafue Lechwe is confined to the Kafue Flats in central Zambia.
The Black Lechwe is confined to the southern half of the Bangweulu Swamps of northern Zambia. It is unlikely to survive in its former range on the Chambeshi floodplains along the upper Luapula floodplain that forms the common frontier between Zambia and south-eastern DRC.
Red Lechwe are found in the Okavango Delta, and the Kwando/Linyanti/Chobe system of northern Botswana; the Okavango, Kwando/Linyanti/Chobe, Mashi, and Zambezi River systems of north-east Namibia; and the upper Zambezi and middle Kafue of Zambia.
The extinct Robert’s Lechwe was reportedly restricted to within the Luongo and Kalungwishi drainage systems of the lower Luapula locality of north-east Zambia.
The Upemba Lechwe is restricted to the Upemba wetlands, Kamalondo depression, in the Katanga
Province of south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Cotterill 2005).
Lechwe are medium-sized antelopes, with heights ranging from 90 - 112 cm. The color of the lechwe is chestnut with white underparts, throat, and facial markings. Males darken with age. Lechwe have dark leg and body markings, and these markings vary in color, from black to red, and are noticeable between the different subspecies. The horns of the lechwe range in length from 45 - 92 cm and are relatively thin. Their hooves are adapted for swampy terrain. While lechwe do not have scent glands, their coats are greasy and have a distinct odor (Estes, 1991).
Range mass: 61.6 to 128 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Lechwe prefer areas of the flood plains that border swamps because they are close to water and food. The largest populations can be found on flat plains where the wet meadow is maintained throughout the flood cycle. When there is extreme flooding, lechwe take refuse in the woodlands (Estes, 1991).
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
Lechwe eat nutritious grasses that are found in flooded meadows. In order to get to their food, lechwe will feed in water up to their bellies. During the cool dry weather, they do not have to drink, but in the dry hot weather, they may need to drink up to three times a day (Estes, 1991).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: wild: 15.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Lechwe breed in a two and a half month period during the rains, which is usually between November and February. Females are able to breed as early as one and a half years of age but males are not mature until five years of age. The gestation period is seven to eight months, and two thirds of the calves are born in a two month peak, from mid-July to mid-September on the Kafue Flats. When the mothers give birth, they either do so singly or in small groups. Calves are born in covered and dry areas and remain concealed for two to three weeks. Mothers suckle their young both early and late in the day. Once they are done hiding, young calves form groups of up to 50 young, which are mainly independent of their mothers. Calves are weaned in five to six months (Estes, 1991).
Range number of offspring: 1 to 1.
Range gestation period: 7.17 to 8.27 months.
Range weaning age: 5 to 6 months.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 5100 g.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 1050 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 898 days.
Parental Investment: extended period of juvenile learning
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Kobus leche
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Kobus leche
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Lechwe are listed under the following: CITES - Appendix II; US ESA - Threatened; and IUCN - Vulnerable (Wilson, 1993). A century ago, the lechwe poplulation may have numbered half a million, but it has been dropping ever since then. The greatest change was between 1971 - 1987. This was due to the building of hydroelectric dams that changed the natural flooding cycle. Even poaching of these animals did not cause considerable damage to the population (Estes, 1991).
US Federal List: threatened
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Southern Africa
Population location: Southern Africa
Listing status: T
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Kobus leche , see its USFWS Species Profile
The Kafue Lechwe population has been monitored for many years, and has the most reliable time-series of population records. In the early 1970s, estimates consistently put the population at between 90,000 and 110,000. By the early 1980s the population had been reduced to between 40,000 and 45,000, but has increased thereafter slowly to between 50,000 and 70,000 (East 1999; Jeffery and Nefdt in press, and references therein).
Black Lechwe increased from 16,000-17,000 in the late 1960s to about 40,000 in 1980 and subsequently decreased to 30,000, where it seems to have stabilised since the late 1980s (East 1999; Jeffery and Nefdt in press).
The Upemba Lechwe population of DR Congo has declined from about 20,000 to less than 1,000 since the 1980s (Cotterill 2005).
Roberts Lechwe is extinct.
Droughts and disruption of the natural flooding regime are significant causes of population decline. For example, water flow on the Kafue floodplain has been regulated almost entirely by human needs since the construction of hydroelectric dams at the eastern and western ends of the Flats in the 1970s. The Kafue Flats are also used for livestock grazing and the peripheral area is densely settled, particularly in the south. As already noted, the population of Kafue Lechwe decreased from 90,000-100,000 in the early 1970s, before the closure of the dams, to 40,000-50,000 in the early to mid-1980s (East 1999).
Red Lechwe occur in the Moremi G.R. and Chobe N.P. (Botswana), Sioma Ngwezi, Liuwa Plains and Kafue National Parks, and the West Zambezi and Kasonso-Busanga Game Management Areas (Zambia), Kameia N.P. and the Luando, Mavinga and Luiana Game Reserves (Angola), and the Western Caprivi G.R. and the Mahango Game Park (Namibia) (Jeffery and Nefdt in press).
Kafue Lechwe occur only in Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks, both Ramsar sites, and the Kafue Flats Game Management Area in Zambia (Jeffery and Nefdt in press).
Black Lechwe occur only in the Bangweulu Game Management Area, and the Kalasa-Mukoso Game Management Area, while the Upemba National Park is the only known protected area refuge for the Upemba Lechwe (Jeffery and Nefdt in press).
The long-term survival of the lechwe in the wild is totally dependent on the effective protection and management of its remaining populations and their wetland habitats in a few critical areas, in particular Bangweulu (Black Lechwe), Kafue Flats (Kafue Lechwe), Okavango, Linyanti, Busanga and Caprivi (Red Lechwe), and Upemba N.P. (Upemba Lechwe). A significant proportion of the species’ total numbers occurs outside national parks and game reserves (>80% for the Red Lechwe). It is therefore likely that both revenue generation through sustainable offtake by sport hunters which capitalises on the species’ value as a trophy animal and the development of sustainable harvesting to provide meat for local people, e.g., in Bangweulu and Kafue Flats, will play an increasingly important role in the conservation of lechwe populations (East 1999).
Populations of Lechwe are maintained in captivity.
Listed on CITES Appendix II.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Lechwe have been hunted and poached by humans for profit (Estes, 1991). Also, lechwe are one of many African mammals that are a tourist attraction (Stuart and Stuart, 1995).
The lechwe, or southern lechwe, (Kobus leche) is an antelope found in Botswana, Zambia, southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeastern Namibia, and eastern Angola, especially in the Okavango Delta, Kafue Flats and Bangweulu Swamps. Lechwe stand 90 to 100 cm (35 to 39 in) at the shoulder and weigh from 70 to 120 kg (150 to 260 lb). They are golden brown with white bellies. Males are darker in colour, but general hue varies depending on subspecies. The long, spiral-structured horns are vaguely lyre-shaped, they are found only in males. The hindlegs are somewhat longer in proportion than in other antelopes, to ease long-distance running in marshy soil. Lechwe are found in marshy areas where they eat aquatic plants. They use the knee-deep water as protection from predators. Their legs are covered in a water-repellant substance which allows them to run quite fast in knee-deep water. Lechwe are diurnal. They gather in herds which can include many thousands of individuals. Herds are usually all of one sex, but during mating season they mix.
- Red lechwe (K. l. leche) (Gray, 1850) - Widely distributed in the wetlands of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.
- Kafue Flats lechwe (K. l. kafuensis) (Haltenorth, 1963) - It is confined within the Kafue Flats (seasonally inundated flood-plain on the Kafue River, Zambia).
- Roberts' lechwe (K. l. robertsi) (Rothschild, 1907) - Formerly found in northeastern Zambia, now rare.
- Black lechwe (K. l. smithemani) (Lydekker, 1900) - Found in the Bangweulu region of Zambia.
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Kobus leche. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 10 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
- Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 720. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Groves, C.; Grubb, P. (2011). Ungulate Taxonomy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 190–1. ISBN 1-4214-0093-6.