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Water buck at an english wildlifepark arp.jpg
Male ellipsen waterbuck
Female and calf ellipsen waterbuck
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Reduncinae
Genus: Kobus
Species: K. ellipsiprymnus
Binomial name
Kobus ellipsiprymnus
(Ogilby, 1833)

See text

The waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) is a large antelope found widely in sub-Saharan Africa.

Taxonomy and etymology[edit]

Rüppell's depiction of the defassa waterbuck (1835)

The scientific name of the waterbuck is Kobus ellipsiprymnus. The waterbuck is one of the six species of the genus Kobus and belongs to the family Bovidae. It was first described by Irish naturalist William Ogilby in 1833. The generic name Kobus is a New Latin word, originating from an African name, koba. The specific name ellipsiprymnus refers to the white elliptical ring on the rump,[2] from the Greek ellipes (ellipse) and prymnos (prumnos, hind part).[3]

The type specimen of the waterbuck was collected by South African hunter-explorer Andrew Steedman in 1832. This specimen was named Antilope ellispiprymnus by Ogilby in 1833. This species was transferred to the genus Kobus and named K. ellipsiprymnus in 1840. In 1835, German naturalist Eduard Rüppell collected another specimen, which differed from Steedman's specimen in having a prominent white ring on its rump. Considering it a separate species, Rüppell gave it the Amharic name "defassa" waterbuck and scientific name Antilope defassa.[2] Presently, these two are considered to be the same species, K. ellipsiprymnus.[4]


37 subspecies of the waterbuck had been initially recognised on the basis of pelage colour. They classified into two groups: the Ellipsen waterbuck group and the Defassa waterbuck group. Owing to the high variability of coat colour in the Defassa waterbuck group, as many as 29 subspecies were included in it; the Ellipsen waterbuck group consisted of eight subspecies. In 1971, however, the number of subspecies was reduced to thirteen (four for the Ellipsen waterbuck group and nine Defassa waterbuck group). These subspecies are often found to interbreed in Tanzania and Kenya, where their ranges overlap extensively. Though they occur in Zambia as well, their ranges are separated by relief features or by the Muchinga escarpment.[4] The list of subspecies is as follows:[2][5]

  • K. e. ellipsiprymnus (Ellipsen waterbuck) group: Found in southeast Africa, ranging from southern Somalia to KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) and inland to the Gregory Rift and Botswana. Includes the following four subspecies:
    • K. e. ellipsiprymnus Ogilby, 1833
    • K. e. kondensis Matschie, 1911 (including lipuwa, kulu)
    • K. e. pallidus Matschie, 1911
    • K. e. thikae Matschie, 1910 (including kuru and canescens)
  • K. e. defassa (Defassa waterbuck) group: Found west of the Gregory Rift, ranging from Ethiopia west to Senegal and south to Zambia. Includes the following nine subspecies:
    • K. e. adolfi-friderici Matschie, 1906 (including fulvifrons, nzoiae and raineyi)
    • K. e. annectens Schwarz, 1913 (including schubotzi)
    • K. e. crawshayi P. L. Sclater, 1894 (including uwendensis, frommiand münzneri)
    • K. e. defassa Rüppell, 1835 (including matschiei and hawashensis)
    • K. e. harnieri Murie, 1867 (including avellanifrons, ugandae, dianae, ladoensis, cottoni, breviceps, albertensis and griseotinctus)
    • K. e. penricei W. Rothschild, 1895
    • K. e. tjäderi Lönnberg, 1907 (including angusticeps and powelli)
    • K. e. tschadensis Schwarz, 1913
    • K. e. unctuosus Laurillard, 1842 (including togoensis)


The waterbuck is the largest of the kob antelopes.[2] It is a sexually dimorphic antelope, with the males larger and heavier than the females.[4] The head-and-body length is typically between 177–235 cm (70–93 in) and the average height is between 120 and 136 cm (47 and 54 in).[6] Males reach approximately 127 cm (50 in) at the shoulder, while females reach 119 cm (47 in). Males typically weigh 198–262 kg (437–578 lb) and females 161–214 kg (355–472 lb).[7] The tail is 22–45 cm (8.7–17.7 in) long.[3]

The waterbuck is of a robust build. The shaggy coat is reddish brown to grey, and becomes progressively darker with age.[7] Though apparently thick, the hair is sparse on the coat. The hair on the neck is, however, long and shaggy. When sexually excited, the skin of the waterbuck secretes a greasy substance, giving it the name "greasy kob".[2] The face is marked with a white muzzle and light eyebrows and insides of the ears. There is a cream-coloured patch ("bib") on the throat.[3] The neck is long, while the legs are short.[6]

The long, spiral-structured horns, found only in males, sweep back and up. The first group shows a white rump patch, the second a white, ellipse-shaped ring on the rump that extends above the tail.


Waterbuck are found in scrub and savanna areas near water, where they eat grasses. Despite their name, waterbuck do not spend much time in the water, but will take refuge there to escape predators. They are diurnal. Females gather in herds of between two and 600 individuals. Males keep territories of around 300 acres (1.2 km²) during their prime. They usually lose their territories before the age of 10.


  1. ^ IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). "Kobus ellipsiprymnus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2011-06-15.  Database entry includes justification for why this species is listed as Least concern.
  2. ^ a b c d e Spinage, C. (1982). A Territorial Antelope. Oxford: Elsevier Science. pp. 1–10. ISBN 978-0-323-15475-8. 
  3. ^ a b c Huffman, B. "Waterbuck". Ultimate Ungulate. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Skinner, J. D.; Chimimba, Christian T. (2005). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 681–2. ISBN 0521844185. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ a b Newell, T. L. "Kobus ellipsiprymnus (Waterbuck)". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Estes, R. D. (2004). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals : Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates (4th ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 107–11. ISBN 0-520-08085-8. 

External links[edit]