Hartebeest are large African antelopes. Their distinctive features are particularly elongated forehead and oddly shaped horns, long legs (often with black markings), short neck, and pointed ears. The coat is generally short and shiny and varies in color according to subspecies. Hartebeest can be pale sandy-brown, reddish-brown, with a dark face, reddish tan, reddish to tawny, dark reddish brown or chocolate brown with fine spots of white. Hartebeest have preorbital glands (glands near the eyes) with a central duct, that secrete a dark sticky or in some subspecies colorless fluid. Both sexes of all subspecies have horns, with those of females being more slender. Apart from their long face, the large chest and the sharply sloping back differentiate the hartebeest from other antelopes.
Hartebeest are found in Sub-Saharan Africa. They inhabit dry savannas, open plains, and wooded grasslands, often moving into more arid places after rainfall. They are tolerant of wooded areas and are often found on the edge of woodlands.
Hartebeest are active mainly during the day; they graze in the early morning and late afternoon and rest in shade around noon. They are gregarious and form herds of up to 300 individuals. Larger numbers may gather in places with abundant grass. Within the herd, hartebeest can be divided into four groups: territorial adult males, non-territorial adult males, young males, and the females with their young. The females form groups of 5-12 animals and fight for dominance over the herd. Sparring between males and females is common. Hartebeest are very alert and cautious animals with highly developed brains. They are calm in nature but can be ferocious when provoked. While feeding, one individual usually stays on the lookout for danger. At times of danger, the whole herd flees in a single file after an individual suddenly starts off. Hartebeest are generally sedentary and may migrate only under adverse conditions such as natural calamities. In order to communicate with each other, these animals produce quiet quacking and grunting sounds. Juveniles are usually more vocal than adults and produce a quacking call when alarmed or pursued.
Hartebeest are polygynous and during the mating season, the males may fight fiercely for dominance. These antelopes breed throughout the year, with one or two peaks that are influenced by the availability of food. The gestation period lasts 8 to 9 months, after which a single calf weighing about 9 kg (20 lb) is born. Births usually peak in the dry season and take place in thickets. Calves can move about on their own shortly after birth, however, they usually lie in the open in close proximity of their mothers. Calves are weaned at four months, but young males stay with their mothers for two and a half years. Both males and females become reproductively mature at one to two years of age.
Hartebeest were formerly widespread in Africa, but populations of this species have undergone drastic decline due to habitat destruction, hunting, human settlement, and competition with livestock for food. They are also popular game animals due to their highly regarded meat.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of hartebeest is around 362,000 individuals. There are estimates of their subspecies' populations in specific areas: Red hartebeest in southern Africa - 130,000 animals; Swayne’s hartebeest in Ethiopia - less than 800 animals; Western hartebeest - 36,000 animals; Lelwel hartebeest - 70,000 animals; Kenya hartebeest - 3,500 animals; Lichtenstein's hartebeest - 82,000 animals; Coke’s hartebeest - 42,000 animals. Currently, hartebeest are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but their numbers today are decreasing.