What's the Difference? was a post I wrote years ago, detailing the differences between crocodiles and alligators. And now, for the sequel that no one asked for!
The antelope are members of the Bovidae, the family that encompasses the cattle, sheep, and goats, though they physically resemble deer more closely than they do their closer relatives. They are found throughout Africa and Eurasia. The deer are more cosmopolitan in their distribution, sprawling across North and South America, Europe and Asia, and possessing a toehold in northern Africa. Both come in a variety of sizes and shapes, social groupings, and habitat preferences.
The primary difference between the deer and antelope is a question of headgear. Deer possess antlers, whereas antelope have horns. These are another two terms which many zoo visitors often confuse. Antlers are possessed by male deer; the only species in which the female also has antlers is the caribou, or reindeer. These antlers are branched into prongs or points; every year, the antlers fall off, and are regrown in the next. Horns, in contrast, are permanent. While they may vary enormously in size and shape, from the short, sharp spikes of a duiker to the spiraling coils of a kudu, they are never branched.
Left: Mounted set of wapiti antlers, Elmwood Park Zoo. Right: Blackbuck antelope horns
As soon as we stop dismissively thinking of all deer and antelope as being part of some bland, monolithic herd of boring Bambis, we can see them for what they are - approximately 150 species (about 90 antelope, about 60 deer) of extraordinary beautiful and diverse animals, each worthy of admiration and conservation.