Sightings of antelopes are not uncommon in Texas.
The blackbuck antelope of India is a common resident of exotic game ranches and they are fairly common free-ranging outside of high fences in the Texas Hill Country,
In fact, I recently photographed some near Kerrville.
African antelopes are rarer but kudu, lechwe and several gazelle species are found on some ranches.
Sitatunga (marsh buck) are a central African forest antelope that are extremely rare even on the many large, high fence game ranches I have been on over the years. In fact, I have never seen one.
That’s why getting a Facebook message that one was hanging out around a residence just outside of Beaumont got me excited. My friend took a couple of photos with her cell phone at her residence and a relative did the research to determine it was indeed a sitatunga. I have kept her anonymous because the sighting was literally behind her house.
I set a Moultrie Mobile cam on the property and within a few hours got a photo of the beautiful antelope. The camera has been there for over a month and it never returned.
According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, sitatunga reside in the swamps, savannas, forests and forest clearings of central, eastern and parts of southern Africa, ranging from Cameroon and Central African Republic in the north to northern Botswana in the south.
It is theorized that sitatunga likely occurred alongside waterways throughout western and central Africa as well, but are no longer found in that region.
Hunting ranches in Texas have created a a thriving industry that produces large number of animals. Animals like the scimitar-horned oryy, blackbuck antelope and axis deer have been sent back to their native lands where they were endangered from these ranches.
A sitatunga hunt would demand anywhere from $10-12,000 according to sources I reached out to so this animal was either from a hunting ranch, a breeder or perhaps someone who enjoys keeping beautiful exotic hoofstock.
An official with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said the animal was sighted six miles away two weeks before I got my game camera photo.
And a few days ago, I got this photo from reader Ben Broussard that was taken three weeks after mine and about eight miles away. Either it’s the same animal or there were multiple escapees. I’m betting on it being the same animal. Again, sitatunga are not a common exotic in Texas.
I have reached out to several exotic owners in Southeast Texas to see if they had an escapee or if they knew anyone who did. Everyone was shocked there was a sitatunga in the area-whether it was behind a fence or free-ranging now.
I have written numerous times in recent years that animal enocunters in the United States have changed dramatically because of the introduction of exotics.
This sitatunga situation was an interesting surprise. It likely simply got out of a hole in a fence or escaped during the two major hurricanes that hit Southeast Texas in 2020.
I hope it makes its way back home but likely it will continue wandering.
Interestingly, this antelope known as a “marsh buck” in Africa is probably better suited for survival in our swampy habitat than most exotics.