What has Yellow Legs and Barks Like a Dog?
Is that man's best friend you hear yapping in the bush? A baboon perhaps? It may be the alarm call of the Nyala, which resembles the sound of a dog barking. These medium-sized antelope are relatively widespread in the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park, but not often seen. This is due to their habit of sheltering in dense acacia thickets during the day, emerging to feed on flowers, leaves, grasses, twigs and fruits during the cooler hours.
Closely related to both kudu and bushbuck, the nyala, Tragelaphus angasii, shares a few similarities with both of these, particularly in the fairer sex. The males are distinguished by the long fringe of hair, along their underside and on the crest of their back, which is absent in the other two antelope. Uniquely, the nyala has tan, almost yellow, lower legs.
The males are much larger than the females, weighing up to 125 kgs with sharp inward curved horns up to 70cm long. There is much diversity in the colouration of this species, with the males exhibiting a dark grey coat, while the females boast rich chestnut hues and white dorsal stripes, similar to that of the bushbuck ewe. Males have thin indistinct dorsal stripes and a chevron between the eyes, like that of a kudu.
Interestingly, juvenile males are indistinguishable from females until they reach maturity at 18 months old, and it is thought that this is to protect them from the aggressive advances of dominant males in the area.
Fights amongst nyala rams involve a great deal of posturing, shoving and horn-to-horn combat, which can sometimes be fatal. The males put on dramatic displays before a conflict: raising their crests, lowering their horns, curling the tail over the back, thrashing bushes with their horns and general prancing about, with their yellowish legs raised high. Most disagreements evolve over mating rights, as nyala are not territorial.
Males are solitary, while females stick together in groups of up to 30 individuals, although herds of 2 to 6 are the norm. Female offspring often remain with their mothers, while the males roam off to form transitory groups.
Nyala can often be seen in the presence of monkeys where they take advantage of any fruits dropped by these primates, or in areas where there is fresh new grass. Ask your ranger if he knows of any prime nyala territory to visit on your next game drive.