Kobus leche 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Bovidae

Scientific Name: Kobus leche Gray, 1850
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Southern Lechwe
French Cobe Lechwe, Lechwe
Spanish Cobo de Lechwe
Taxonomic Notes: Four distinct lechwe populations are recognized as subspecies (Ansell and Banfield 1979, Birungi and Arctander 2001): Black Lechwe (K. l. smithemani); Kafue Lechwe (K. l. kafuensis); Red Lechwe (K. l. leche); and the extinct Robert's Lechwe (K. l. robertsi). A fifth taxon, the Upemba Lechwe from south-eastern DR Congo, which Cotterill (2005) described as a distinct species, is treated here as a subspecies, K. l. anselli.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-04-20
Assessor(s): IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group
Reviewer(s): Cooke, R.
The population of Southern Lechwe has been declining overall for many years and is continuing to decline. The latest available estimates suggest that the population declined by 25% between 1999 and 2015, a period of 16 years (three generations = 19 years). The species is thus close to meeting the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion A2. The causes of the decline include poaching, expansion of agriculture and livestock grazing, changes in water management regimes, drought and encroachment by alien plant species.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Southern Lechwe has a discontinuous distribution in major wetlands in Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Zambia, and south-east DR Congo. Present distribution is similar to the historical distribution, except that range has contracted, particularly over the last century (East 1999, Jeffery and Nefdt 2013). The five subspecies have separate ranges (East 1999, Jeffery and Nefdt 2013):
  • Kafue Lechwe (K. l. kafuensis) occurs in the Kafue Flats, central Zambia.
  • Black Lechwe (K. l. smithemani) is distributed in the southern half of the Bangweulu Swamps of northern Zambia. Formerly also on the Chambeshi floodplains along the upper Luapula floodplain between Zambia and south-eastern DRC, but it is unlikely to survive there.
  • Red Lechwe (K. l. leche) is found in the Okavango Delta, and the Kwando/Linyanti/Chobe system of northern Botswana; the Okavango, Kwando/Linyanti/Chobe, Mashi, and Zambezi River systems of north-east Namibia; and the upper Zambezi and middle Kafue of Zambia; the Cuando system of SE Angola and the Cuanza and Luando Rivers of Central Angola.
  • Upemba Lechwe (K. l. anselli) is restricted to the Upemba wetlands, Kamalondo depression, in Katanga Province of south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Cotterill 2005).
  • The extinct Robert’s Lechwe (K. l. robertsi) was reportedly restricted to within the Luongo and Kalungwishi drainage systems of the lower Luapula region of north-east Zambia.
Countries occurrence:
Angola; Botswana; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Namibia; Zambia
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):1000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Based on population estimates from aerial surveys for three of the four surviving Lechwe populations, East (1999) made corrections for under-counting biases and produced a total population estimate of 212,000: 98,000 Red Lechwe, 78,000 Kafue Lechwe and 36,000 Black Lechwe. Currently, Red Lechwe are estimated to number at least 80,000 (Jeffery and Nefdt 2013); Black Lechwe 49,036 (, and Kafue Lechwe 28,711 (Shanungu et al. 2015). Assuming there are still 1,000 Upemba Lechwe (which is likely to be an overestimate), these figures suggest a total population of ca 158,750, representing a decrease of 25% since East (1999). Overall population trends are stable or increasing for the Black Lechwe, but are decreasing for the Red Lechwe outside some protected areas, Kafue Lechwe, and probably Upemba Lechwe (East 1999, Jeffery and Nefdt 2013).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Southern Lechwe are associated with wetlands, preferring the shallow water margins of floodplains and swamps (less than 1 m deep), although they may occasionally swim across deep-water areas. They typically frequent light woodlands and termitaria grasslands on the periphery of seasonally inundated floodplains, floodplain grasslands and water-meadows, shallow water meadows around permanently inundated swamps and lagoons, and occasionally papyrus and reed beds of deep-water swamps (Jeffery and Nefdt 2013). Southern Lechwe are grazers, feeding mainly on floodplain and aquatic grasses. Nefdt (1996) discusses an instance in which Lechwe adapted their reproductive behaviour to changes in ecology including those induced by human activities.
Generation Length (years):6.4

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Southern Lechwe are hunted primarily for meat but also for sport (Cotterill 2005, Jeffery and Nefdt 2013). It is possible that revenue generation through sustainable offtake by sport hunters which capitalises on the species’ value as a trophy animal and the development of sustainable harvesting to provide meat for local people (e.g., in Bangweulu and Kafue Flats) may play a role in the conservation of lechwe populations (East 1999).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Southern Lechwes have been eliminated from large parts of their former range by poaching for meat. Hunting is implicated in apparent large-scale changes in the dry season distribution of Black Lechwe, with a dramatic decrease in the numbers occupying the western end of the main Bangweulu Swamps where poaching is intense. In contrast, its numbers appeared to be stable or increasing in the central section of the main swamp, and there was a steady increase in the dry season population on the 100 km² Chimbwi Plain in south-eastern Bangweulu (East 1999). Commercial hunting was also the primary reason for the dramatic decline in numbers of the Upemba Lechwe (Cotterill 2005).

Droughts and disruption of the natural flooding regime are significant causes of population decline. For example, water flow on the Kafue floodplain has been regulated almost entirely by human needs since the construction of hydroelectric dams at the eastern and western ends of the Flats in the 1970s. The Kafue Flats are also used for livestock grazing and the peripheral area is densely settled, particularly in the south.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Red Lechwe occur in the Moremi G.R. and Chobe N.P. (Botswana), Sioma Ngwezi, Liuwa Plains and Kafue National Parks, and the West Zambezi and Kasonso-Busanga Game Management Areas (Zambia), Kameia N.P. and the Luando, Mavinga and Luiana Game Reserves (Angola), and the Western Caprivi G.R. and the Mahango Game Park (Namibia) (Jeffery and Nefdt 2013). Kafue Lechwe occur only in Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks, both Ramsar sites, and the Kafue Flats Game Management Area in Zambia (Jeffery and Nefdt 2013). Black Lechwe occur only in the Bangweulu Game Management Area and the Kalasa-Mukoso Game Management Area, while the Upemba National Park is the only known protected area refuge for the Upemba Lechwe (Jeffery and Nefdt 2013).

The long-term survival of the lechwe in the wild is totally dependent on the effective protection and management of its remaining populations and their wetland habitats in a few critical areas, in particular Bangweulu (Black Lechwe), Kafue Flats (Kafue Lechwe), Okavango, Linyanti, Busanga and Caprivi (Red Lechwe), and Upemba N.P. (Upemba Lechwe). A significant proportion of the species’ total numbers occurs outside national parks and game reserves (>80% for the Red Lechwe). It is possible that revenue generation through sustainable offtake by sport hunters and sustainable harvesting to provide meat for local people may play a role in the conservation of lechwe populations (East 1999).

Populations of Southern Lechwe are maintained in captivity in European and North American zoos and others are present on Texas ranches (East 1999).

Listed in CITES Appendix II.

Citation: IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group. 2017. Kobus leche. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T11033A50189021. . Downloaded on 21 September 2018.
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