Historic and current distribution, abundance, and habitats of Roosevelt’s sable antelope Hippotragus niger roosevelti (Heller, 1910) (Cerartiodactyla: Bovidae) in Kenya

  • Thomas M. Butynski
  • Ian Parker
  • Yvonne A. de Jong
Keywords: Shimba Hills, conservation, miombo, Brachystegia, Kwale, Kilifi, Tsavo


Roosevelt’s sable Hippotragus niger roosevelti is one of Kenya’s most distinctive and threatened large mammals. Historically, sable herds occurred in the vicinity of Taveta, and in the miombo and Diospyros woodlands of the coastal hinterland from the Tanzania-Kenya border northward for at least 210 km. Most of the historic distribution of sable in Kenya lies 15–35 km inland from the coast at 100–200 m altitude where mean annual rainfall is 800–1200 mm. In terms of numbers, however, most sable occurred in the higher and wetter Shimba Hills (150–460 m; mean annual rainfall 1000– 1200 mm). Bachelor males sometimes moved >150 km inland. Much of the decline of the distribution and size of Kenya’s sable population occurred during 1950–1980. Sable in Kenya not reported outside of Shimba Hills National Reserve after 1994. Geographic distribution of sable herds in Kenya declined from roughly 5000 km² in 1884 to 70 km² today (>98% decline in 132 years). The number of sable in Kenya was already small as of 1884, when there were probably <400 individuals. Kenya’s sable population declined from >235 individuals in the mid-1970s to ca. 60 individuals in 2015 (>74% decline in 40 years). Given the low number, small distribution, and rapid decline, sable in Kenya qualifies as a nationally ‘Critically Endangered’ species. Recommendations for the conservation of sable in Kenya are provided.

Keywords: Shimba Hills, conservation, miombo, Brachystegia, Kwale, Kilifi, Tsavo


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1026-1613
print ISSN: 0012-8317