Hartebeest have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, but their sense of sight is poor. When alarmed, they tend to mill about in seeming confusion, snorting nervously before running off. Once in its stride, a hartebeest can achieve a speed of 55 km/hr, zigzagging left and right in its characteristic bouncing flight, which make it more difficult for predators to catch them. Like the blue wildebeest, it has an uncanny sense of direction and will find water and fresh grazing after rain has fallen a considerable distance away. Expectant females leave the herd in early summer and give birth to a single calf, usually between September and December, in a sheltered place. The female visits the calf to suckle and clean it. Once it is strong enough, it joins the herd with its mother. Mother hartebeest can recognize their young from a distance of 300 m.
They avoid dense woodland, and are dependent on surface water. They are predominantly grazers.
The Red Hartebeest has a very characteristic elongated, ungainly face, goatlike eyes, and humped shoulders. Most individuals are a reddish-brown colour, although this does vary to yellow-brown or tawny. They have a black forehead, with a patch of reddish-brown across the face between and in front of the eyes, and a black band on top of the muzzle. The name comes from the Dutch hartbeest. Red hartebeest are associated predominantly with open country such as grassland, including fairly arid regions such as semi-desert bush savanna.
Red hartebeest are gregarious, and usually live in herds of 15 – 20, although larger herds are seen in Botswana at certain times of year, and aggregations of more than 10 000 animals have been seen on massive migrations in the Kalahari Desert. The more usual, smaller herds are made up of territorial males with their females and offspring, and usually remain stable for up to three years. Challenges between rival males often result in vicous fights, during which they interlock their horns and drag each other to their knees. In the absence of a territorial bull, an adult female will lead the herd. Territorial bulls often climb on top of a termite mound to advertise their presence to other hartebeest, and to keep a watchful eye for lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and hyaenas.