The Giant Sable of Angola - Hippotragus niger variani

View the full report of the August 2002 survey

1. Background:

The Angolan Giant Sable, described in 1909 by Frank Varian, was named Hippotragus niger variani in his honour in 1916.

The most striking characteristics of the Giant Sable, a subspecies of the common sable antelope, are its long recurving horns which rise almost vertically above its head before curving backwards and the absence of the full white eye-to-nose line which occurs on the face of the better-known sable antelope.


The Giant Sable of Angola.
There are only a few of these majestic animals left in the Malanje province - it is not sure how many.

 2. Primary Location:

Giant Sable, which are unique to Angola, are primarily located in the Luando Strict Nature Reserve and the Cangandala National Park. Although the Luando Reserve was established in 1938, it was only raised to its present status in 1955 as an area "... under the direction and control of public authorities for the total protection of wild fauna and flora". This Reserve lies in the Malanje province and is approximately 8 280 km2 in size. For 240 km of its length, it is bounded by the Cuanza and Luando rivers.


 Giant Sable herd

Following the discovery of small Giant Sable herds in the Cangandala area north of the Luando Strict Reserve, the Cangandala Natural Integral Reserve was created in 1963 and proclaimed a National Park in 1970. 

The Cangandala National Park comprises about 600 km2 and also lies in the Malanje province.

3. Habitat of the Giant Sable:

The Luando Reserve lies on the Angolan peneplane and the ancient African plateau and consists of mainly flat or gently rolling woodland intersected by edaphic grasslands. The typical Brachystegia woodland is open and parklike with a ground cover of grasses and scattered bushes. Extensive seasonal floodplains occur at the Luando and parts of the Cuanza river. Four types of grassland occur, varying in character according to their position in the catena. The vegetation is supported by a rainfall which exceeds 1 200 mm per annum and is retained well by the sandy acid soils.

Rains of about 1 200 mm per annum occur well into May in the Cangandala area and this is reflected in the vegetation. Brachystegia woodland is once again dominant. No broad floodplains occur although there are open grasslands in the depresssions and narrow drainage-line grasslands occur.

In general terms, the Giant Sable seem to prefer ecotonal communities.

4. Present Status of the Giant Sable

In 1974, before the commencement of the civil war, the Giant Sable was already classed as a vulnerable species. From 1976 onwards, most of the areas in which the Giant Sable were protected, were evacuated and left unattended and unprotected for more than 25 years. Due to various factors such as continuing hostilities between the Angolan Government and UNITA, it has up to now been impossible to conduct an extensive aerial survey in order to establish the actual number of Giant Sable left. What remains very clear, however, is that urgent action is needed to ensure that the Giant Sable do not join the other species on the extinct list.

Strict legislation concerning the conservation of the Giant Sable is necessary to ensure that it is protected from poachers and hunters. To save the Giant Sable from extinction, it is also essential that the quality of life of the Angolan people, particularly in the Malanje Province, should be uplifted. The communities should be roped in to assist with the conservation of the Giant Sable, informed of its importance, and share in the potential tourism revenue obtained from its conservation. A census needs to be done on the number of people who have settled in the Parks and specific areas should be set aside for the Giant Sable, free from human competition and influence.