Antelope courtship and reproduction

Antelopes reach sexual maturity quickly. The smallest antelope species are ready to breed when just 6 months old, and the largest only need 3 or 4 years to reach sexual maturity.

Some species of antelope can breed at any time of the year, but most have breeding seasons that coincide with the changing seasons. This timing ensures that young are born when food is plentiful.

Antelope courtship and reproduction

Courtship and mating behavior in antelopes varies. Dik-diks pair up for life, but in most herd-forming species, courtship begins with a protracted contest between adult males as they compete to gather as many females as they can. In some species males claim a territory that overlaps the territories of several females. In other species, such as the black buck, males fight for control of a small courtship arena, known as a lek. Males who successfully hold their ground at the center of the lek mate with many females, while those on the outskirts of the lek are ignored by females.

After mating the gestation (pregnancy) period ranges from five to eight months. Female antelopes give birth to a single calf or, more rarely, twins. A mother and her newborn calf are vulnerable to predators, and antelopes have evolved two quite different strategies for surviving this period. In most species, including all those that live in forests and woodlands, the female gives birth in dense cover and leaves the calf while she feeds. The calf comes to its mother when she calls it. After taking a meal of milk, the calf will hide away once more. Once in its hiding place, the calf remains completely still and will run away only if it is on the verge of being discovered.

Gnus and their close relatives use a higher-risk strategy, giving birth out in the open. Unlike other young antelopes, the calves follow their mothers, and they have to do this in record time. Young gnus are usually on their feet within 15 minutes after birth, and within a few days they have little trouble keeping up with the rest of the herd. This system allows the herd to stay on the move, and the herd also provides some protection for the calf. But predators looking for an easy meal still single out young calves.

A newborn calf depends almost entirely on its mother for survival. In antelopes that form permanent pairs, such as duikers and klipspringers, the male may defend the calf from predator attack, but in most species there is no permanent pair bond, and the female brings up the calf on her own.

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