The Kudu Antelope
One of the best-known silhouettes of the African bush is that of the elegant kudu bull (Tragelaphus strepsiceros).
These handsome animals bear large gently spiralled horns, which some cultures believe to be the habitat of powerful spirits and a symbol of male potency. The horns are spectacular, growing up to 150cm long, with 2.5 gentle twists.
They are sometimes used in Jewish ceremonies as a shofar for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah and have long been employed as musical instruments by African tribes. There is even a version of the vuvuzela, called the kuduzela, which imitates the elegant curve of the kudu horn. Naturally, the horns of a large kudu bull are highly prized among trophy hunters.
Despite these imposing appendages, kudu bulls are peaceful creatures and will usually back away from a fight, after a bit of male posturing and hackle-raising. In the event of two males becoming involved in a tussle, there is a possibility of their horns becoming permanently entwined, leading to starvation on the part of both contenders – so they rarely indulge in the risk.
When confronted, the kudu will flee into dense bush, tilting its head back to avoid the horns becoming entangled in overhanging branches. It can move quite nimbly in this fashion and quickly disappear into the bush.
For the most part, the males coexist peacefully in small bachelor herds of 4 to 8 individuals until the breeding season, when they join up with the females, forming larger groups of up to 18 individuals.
Apart from the horns, the female and male of the species are very similar with tawny grey coats, thin white stripes on their flanks and a white chevron on the face between large, liquid eyes rimmed in white.
The males have manes of long hair extending from the back of the head to the tail, and from the lower neck to the belly, and are also larger than the females, reaching 150 cm at the top of the shoulder, a full 10cm taller than the females. They can also weigh up to 100kg more than their graceful female counterparts.
Pregnant females leave the herd to give birth and keep their fawns concealed for up to 5 weeks away from the others, returning only for feeding. This is to protect them from predators, such as lion who can easily pick off a youngster from the group.
Once the calf is old enough it will join its dam occasionally, until the age of 3 months when it remains by her side constantly before becoming a junior member of the herd at 6 months old.
Ask your ranger to identify the different members of a kudu herd on your next game drive.