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After the eland, the roan antelope Hippotragus equinus is the second largest antelope in South Africa. The name Hippotragus was derived from the Greek words hippos for “horse” and tragos for “goat”. The specific epithet equinus is Latin for “horse” and therefore the scientific name describes a horse-like antelope. Fossils of the roan antelope that lived a million years ago are found at Sterkfontein, Swartberg and Kromdraai in Gauteng, as well as four localities along the Southern Cape coast.
The roan antelope was first described scientifically as Antilopa equina by the French zoologist Ẻtienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, based on a specimen collected near Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape. However, as Antilopa does not occur in Africa, the Swedish zoologist Carl Jakob Sundevall created the name Hippotragus for the blaauwbok, sable antelope and roan antelope in 1845. The name “roan” is often used erroneously for the “roan antelope”, but this word describes a colour which is interspersed with another one. The full name “roan antelope” should rather be used at all times.