The red hartebeest stands at an average height of between 120 and 140cm and has an average weight of approximately 140kg. Coloration of the smooth glossy coat varies from reddish brown to fawn or tawny depending on location. An extension of dark coloration extending from the shoulders to mid-back and down to the base of the tail is more noticeable in males. Both sexes have a well defined area of lighter yellow hair along the rump. Dark patches from the front of the shoulders extend down the front of the forelegs sometimes stopping short of the knees but in some cases might extend all the way to the hooves.
The forehead is black with a wide patch of red or brown across the face and between the eyes. There is a black band across the muzzle. The sides of the face and neck are lighter in shade with two narrow streaks of black joining to form a single stripe down the ridge of the neck. White hair covers the inside of the long pointed ears.
Preferring open country, hartebeest are found predominantly on grassland, floodplains, semi desert savannah and occasionally in open woodland. Hartebeest are water-dependent and as such their movements are controlled by its availability. They are more active during the cool temperatures of early morning and evening and during cold winter days will remain active for most of the day.
Their sense of hearing and smell are very good which makes up for their poor eyesight. When under threat hartebeest can generate considerable speed swerving off from side to side to confuse their pursuer.
Predominantly grazers, their diet consists of several grass species. During the dry, sparse period before the rainy season, they supplement their diet by browsing. Rutting takes place during the winter months (March/April), but this can vary from place to place. A peak in calving occurs towards the end of September before the rainy season commences. Calves start eating grass after about two weeks and will stop suckling at about seven or eight months.