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THE KUDU

26 September 2013

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name
for Greater Kudu : Tragelaphus strepsiceros

Scientific Name
for Smaller Kudu : Tragelaphus imberbis

Weight (Adult Bull) : +/- 187kg

Weight: (Adult Cow) : +/- 155kg

Height (Adult Bull) : +/- 1.42m

Height (Adult Cow) : +/- 1.34m

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The greater kudu and the eland have a common ancestral chromosome morphology, but have been developing separately for at least 1000 years. The greater kudu was first described by Pallas in 1766 as Anitlope strepsiceros from the southern Cape, but as Antilope only occurs in India the name Tragelaphus was created in 1816 by De Blainville. There currently are five subspecies of greater kudu in Africa, with Tragelaphus strepsiceros strepsiceros in southern and central Africa. Fossil greater kudus are known from Europe and Asia where the this species probably originated. 

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In southern Africa, the greater kudu has a discontinuous distribution, occurring from the northern provinces to the north-eastern Free State, the eastern Kalahari, the Albany Thicket of the Eastern Cape and it occasionally enters the south-western Kalahari. The gap between the northern and southern distributions has now closed to less than 200 km.

The name kudu is derived from ku:du in Khoekhoen. Adult bulls weigh around 187 kg with a mean shoulder height of 1.42 m as opposed to 155 kg and 1.34 m in the cow. Only the bulls carry horns and the spread of the horns in the bulls varies between individuals. The development of the horns is used for age determination. 

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Although the cow is usually hornless, cows with underdeveloped horns have been known since 1888. The presence of horns in a cow, or that of horny protuberances on the frontal plate of the skull, is not a genetic problem but probably an atavistic relapse to an ancestor where the cows also carried horns.

The body is pale grey with a paler neck. Both sexes have a grayish mane on the neck, a white dorsal crest and a variable number of white vertical stripes on the side. There is a short beard and a fringe of dark hair from the throat to the upper chest in the bull, and a shorter white mane in the cow. The bushy tail has a black tip and is white underneath, while the mobile round ears are large. 

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There are three distinct white marks on either side of the face.

The greater kudu’s habitat mostly consists of thickets, woodlands and riparian vegetation but not forests or open grasslands. It drinks 7 to 9 litres of water daily and is sensitive to cold weather. It is a mixed browser that feeds by day or night, but the type of browse eaten varies regionally. It eats grass occasionally as well as wild fruits with a high moisture content in arid regions. The diet consists of 15% grass and forbs and 85% browse, flowers and fruits. The mean daily browse intake is around 3% of its body weight.

Family bonding in the greater kudu is weak. Breeding herds number seven to eight animals and mean bachelor herds of 3.6 animals form outside the mating season. Nursery herds have not been recorded but may apparently happen occasionally. There are no territories and the range of an adult bull varies from 90 to 600 ha in savannas, depending on habitat quality, and around 1.6 km² in the Albany Thicket.

The bulls first mate when they are 54 to 60 months old and the cows when 18 to 24 months old. Mating occurs from April to July, peaking in June and July. Gestation lasts 250 to 280 days and the births peak in January and February. A calf of 15 to 16 kg is born in the concealment of a thicket or tall grass and there is no record of twins. The calves wean when they are 135 to 165 days old. Population growth in the wild is 14 to 19% and the main overall mortality factor is food shortages of dry season browse, but for bulls six to eight years old it also is sudden cold snaps linked with a poor physical condition in the late dry season. The mean life expectancy is 12 to 16 years. 

 

References:

Grubb, P 2005. Order Artiodactyla. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (eds), Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 699

Skinner, J D and C T Chimimba (eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 626 – 629.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

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