Waterbuck stand 100 to 130 centimetres at the shoulder and weigh from 160 to 240 kilograms. Their coats are reddish brown in colour and become progressively darker with age; they also have a white 'bib' under their throats and a white ring on their rumps surrounding their tails. The waterproofing secretions of the waterbuck's sweat glands produces an unpleasant odor in its meat, unless the animal is skinned carefully. According to African myth the meat of the waterbuck is not edible, but this is untrue as numerous hunters have demonstrated - whilst not especially tasty, waterbuck venison is perfectly safe to eat. The long spiral structured horns, found only in males, sweep back and up.
Waterbuck are found in scrub and savanna areas near water where they eat grass. Despite its name, the waterbuck does not spend much time in the water, but will take refuge there to escape predators. Waterbuck are diurnal. Females gather in herds of between two and six hundred individuals. Males keep territories of around three hundred acres (1.2 km²) during their prime. They usually lose their territories before the age of ten.
The Defassa Waterbuck is a subspecies (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa) in which the ring on the rump is solid white.