Dating Deception: Male Topi Antelopes Schemes for Sex

Topis – Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya –
Some rights reserved by David d’O

Lying to the opposite sex to get laid does not seem to be restricted to us humans anymore.  While the use of mating deception in animals is not new; such as chimpanzees using false alarms to scare off competition for mates; research about mating deception on females has never been conducted before in the past.  However in 2010, research conducted in Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya showed that male topi antelopes, Damaliscus lunatus, would snort deceptively in a bid to retain females within its territory!

Copyright – Thomas Dressler
Topi copulation

Usually, alarm snortsare emitted when predators are detected and the topi will stare at them with pricked ears.  However, the male topi has been observed to produce alarm snorts even in the absence of predators.  According to lead researcher J. B. Jørgensen, upon noticing a female leaving his territory, the male would run in front of her and produce an alarm snort while aimlessly staring at the direction the female was moving in.  In response, the female delays its departure, providing the male additional chances to mate in a one day mating season.

Results of the research overwhelmingly support the hypothesis of deception.  Firstly, the false alarms were only observed when females were in heat.  Next, these false alarms were indistinguishable from real alarms and males who snorted appeared to be able to mate more successfully.  Snorts were also postulated to be used as a deterrent and hence it is even more unlikely that the snorts were simply mistakes in warning the surrounding females.

Bad Day to be a Topi

Photograph by – Corinne Kendall, 2010
Bad Day to be a Topi

So why do the female topis keep falling for this lie?  It might be because these false alarms occur only during mating seasons, and the costs of actually being attacked might be too high for females to ignore the alarms, allowing the male topi to manipulate females into having sex.




Jørgensen, J.B. & Pangle, W.M. (2010).  Male Topi Antelopes Alarm Snort Deceptively to Retain Females for   Mating.  The American Naturalist. JSTOR

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de Waal, F. (1986).  Deception in the natural communication of chimpanzees.  Pages 221-224 in R.W. Mitchell and N.S. Thomson, eds.  Deception: perspectives on human and nonhuman deceit.  SUNY Press, Albany. (accessed on 8 April 2013).

“Male Antelope Scare Females Into Staying for Sex,” by Wadhams, N.  National Geographic, May 21 2010.

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“Topis – Maasai Mara, Kenya” by David d’O.  Flickr.

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“A Bad Day to be a Topi” by Corinne Kendall. The Peregrine Fund.

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“Pair of korrigum mating, D.l. korrigum.  ARKive.

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