Waterbuck - Bush Bums and the Babies that Follow

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Move over Kim Kardashian; when it comes to the bushveld, the waterbuck has the best-known bum in town.


The iconic circular white marking found on the posterior of this large, llama-like antelope, is sometimes explained as punishment for ignoring the 'fresh paint' sign before using the restroom in Noah's Ark, or as the result of an ill-tempered villager flinging a pot of whitewash at an intrusive buck in the dead of night. However, the waterbuck has its own reasons for this unusual ring around its butt – it comes in handy as a target for their young to follow while on the move in dense bush and to keep a group together during flight.

The impala comes a close second in the designer derriere stakes, with the conspicuous black and white stripes on its rear, also providing a visual display to others of its kind. They are the most common antelope and provide a staple diet for most predators, big and small.

These light-rimmed markings are vital in keeping large herds together while on the run. It is also thought that subtle cues in their body posture are highlighted by these markings and may serve as an early warning of predators in the vicinity, as an antelope will instinctively turn towards a suspicious sound, exposing their rear to the rest of the herd.

Displays of white underbellies and fluffy tails while 'pronking' or bucking, also attract attention to the athletic prowess of the performer during courtship displays or during flight – while the fairer sex may prefer a healthy strapping specimen, predators prefer to prey on the weak.

Most antelope have some white bum-fluff under their tails which is exposed as a 'follow-me' cue to their youngsters, and predators often display a white-tipped or tufted tail that will give subconscious instructions to their young. For example, the downward draped tail of a stalking female leopard is a signal to her cubs to lie low while mommy fetches dinner.

In other cases, white markings may be used to startle and confuse predators with a sudden flash of brilliance, to signal dominance or in the case of white facial markings, to reduce glare and temperature. The gemsbok springs to mind here, although they are not endemic to this area.

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Saturday, 16 December 2017