Lechwe are members of the waterbuck family of antelope, so named because they are always found living near water. One of the most aquatic antelope species, lechwe have adapted to living in swampy areas, particularly in grassy river bottoms and meadows where they feed on vegetation, often wading in water to feed on submerged plants. They have an oily hair coat and unique foot and hoof structure that allows them to live, move about and thrive in wetlands. The Nile lechwe is found only in Sudan and Ethiopia in a large inaccessible wetland known as the Sudd. Due to decades of political unrest in the region, little is known of this endemic species’ current numbers or wild habits.
The often moist lowland habitats at White Oak create the perfect environment for the Nile lechwe. White Oak has maintained a herd of Nile lechwe since the mid-1980s and many have been born at White Oak. In the wild, lechwe live in large herds and lechwe males do not maintain large permanent territories as seen in other antelope species. Instead, adult males gather in a cluster of tiny seasonal territories called a lek. These leks are located near rivers and food sources and are associated with large herds of females. The more dominant males are found nearer the center of each lek and these are the animals the females seek to mate with.
Another unique feature of the Nile lechwe is the distinct coat color difference between males and females, called sexual dimorphism. The trait is not common in mammals and one theory is that because there are no large predators found within the habitat of their range (papyrus swamps), the Nile lechwe males have not had to ‘blend in’ with the rest of the herd.