The Bongo sports a bright auburn or chestnut coat, with the neck, chest and legs generally darker than the rest of the body. Coats of male Bongos become darker and buffy as they age until they reach a dark mahogany-brown colour. Coats of female Bongos are usually more brightly coloured than those of males.
A white chevron appears between the eyes and two large white spots grace each cheek. There is another white chevron where the neck meets the chest. The large ears are to sharpen hearing, and the distinctive coloration may help Bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats. Bongos have no special secretion glands and so rely less on scent to find one another than do other similar antelopes. The lips of a bongo are white, topped with a black muzzle.
Like many forest ungulates bongos are herbivorous browsers and feed on tree/bush leaves, bushes, vines, bark and pith of rotting trees, grasses/herbs, roots, cereals, shrubs and fruits.
Suitable habitats for bongos must have permanent water available. A large animal, the bongo requires an ample amount of food, and is restricted to areas with abundant year-round growth of herbs and low shrubs. Such restrictions have been said to account for the animal's limited distribution.