European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 145–152 | Cite as

DNA-led rediscovery of the giant sable antelope in Angola

  • Christian PitraEmail author
  • Pedro VazPinto
  • Brendan W. J. O’Keeffe
  • Sandi Willows-Munro
  • Bettine Jansen van Vuuren
  • Terry J. Robinson
Original Paper


The giant sable antelope (Hippotragus niger variani), unique to Angola, was feared extinct after almost three decades of civil war. Comparisons of mitochondrial DNA sequences derived from dung samples recently collected in the field and from old museum specimens of certain provenance provide the first documented evidence to date that this enigmatic antelope has survived. Its DNA-led rediscovery in the former combat zone was subsequently confirmed by photographic evidence. The Angolan isolate constitutes a distinct monophyletic group that shows a dramatic population decline from historic levels. It represents a diagnosable conservation unit which is characterised by unique cranial morphological features (Blaine 1922 1922:317–339), a highly restricted range, and the presence of fixed genetic differences in all of its common relatives.


Hippotragus niger variani Giant sable antelope Dung mitochondrial DNA Species identification 



We wish to thank the Angolan Authorities for their support in conducting this research. We thank Mr. Cristóvão da Cunha, the Governor of Malange, and General Hanga of Angolan Air Force, Messrs. Werner and Wolfram Brock, Dr. Miguel Morais, Mr. Abias Huongo and all the local assistants (giant sable “shepherds”). Anke Schmidt and Dr. Joerns Fickel of the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin, Dr. Jeremy Anderson of the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, Michael Eustace of African Parks, Pierre van Heerden of Oracle Television, Dr Rolf Baldus of the GTZ-Tanzania Wildlife programme, Benson Kibonde, Joe Holmes, Peter Vosloo, Frits Eloff and Mr Bebecca provided assistance. The Powell-Cotton Museum (Malcolm Harman) and the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (Dr. Bill Stanley) kindly provided access to giant sable specimens housed in their collections. This research was funded in part by UNDP and PAPS, African chapter of SCI, the Dallas Safari Club, and the South African National Research Foundation (GUN 2053617). The Angolan Air Force provided logistic support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Pitra
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pedro VazPinto
    • 2
  • Brendan W. J. O’Keeffe
    • 3
  • Sandi Willows-Munro
    • 4
  • Bettine Jansen van Vuuren
    • 4
  • Terry J. Robinson
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute for Zoo and Wildlife ResearchBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Universidade Católica de Angola29 LuandaAngola
  3. 3.The Shikar Club, Pelsall,StaffordshireEngland
  4. 4.Evolutionary Genomics Group, Department of Botany and ZoologyUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa

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