Shoulder height 90–100cm. Weight 80–100kg.
Lechwe are sturdy, shaggy antelope with beautiful lyre-shaped horns, adapted to favour the seasonal floodplains that border lakes and rivers. They need dry land on which to rest, but otherwise will spend much of their time grazing on grasses and sedges, standing in water if necessary. Their hooves are splayed, adapted to bounding through their muddy environment when fleeing from the lion, hyena and wild dog that hunt them, making them the most aquatic of antelope after sitatunga.
Lechwe are found in DRC, Angola, northern Botswana and Namibia's Caprivi Strip, but their stronghold is Zambia. Wherever they occur, the males are generally larger and darker than the females, and in Zambia there are three subspecies. (Though none occurs in the Luangwa or Lower Zambezi valleys.)
The red lechwe
(K. l. leche
) is the most widespread subspecies. It's the only one found outside Zambia and has a chestnut-reddish coat, darker on the back and much lighter (almost white) underneath. Its legs have black markings, as does the tip of its tail. Inside Zambia red lechwe are found in large numbers (about 5,000 probably) on the Busanga Plains, with smaller populations in the Western Province and the Lukanga Swamps.
The Kafue lechwe
(K. l. kafuensis
) are slightly larger animals, with bigger horns, and are restricted to the Kafue Flats area, between Lake Itezhi-Tezhi and Lusaka. This race is more light brown than red, with black patches on their shoulders that run into the black on their legs. Most of the 40–50,000 that remain are confined to the Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon national parks.
The black lechwe
(K. l. smithemani
) used to occur in huge numbers, perhaps as many as half a million animals, centred on the plains to the south of the Bangweulu Swamps. They are now restricted to about 30–40,000 animals in the same area, and a small population have been reintroduced into the Nashinga Swamps to the west of Chinsali. Black lechwe are much darker and the older males have almost black backs and brownish undersides.