About the Author

Adam Bannister

Guest contributor

Ranger at Londolozi Game Reserve

View Adam's profile

27 Comments

on Unusual Nyala Colour morph

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Clive Curtis
Member
Guest

Hi Adam
In my numerous safari wonderings around South Africa , I have come across this ‘morph’ on a few occasions. The four records I have are from 1)Hluhluwe Game Reserve 2) Magudu Game Reserve 3) Thukela Biosphere (near Weenen), and 4) Umkomaas Valley (before Ixopo).
I know of another that has been seen at Mkuzi.
These bulls had all had very ‘red’ coats (more so than the one in your pic). On average the horn length is very long (all between 27 and 30 inches – which is considered a record trophy size – 27+”)
These bulls mixed both with female herds and with other ‘normal’ bulls, with no apparent difference in behaviour.
The testicles on the ‘red’ bulls appear under-developed (but are present) – perhaps leading to a lack of testosterone production???
As you say, any veterinary opinions would be greatly absorbed.
Merry Christmas,
Clive Curtis (KZN)

Blake Balcomb
Member
Guest

Yes, indeed Clive. One of my sightings was at Mkuze, the other at Tembe. Both of which had an excellent set of horns and very female-like coats.

James H
Member
Guest

Many years ago in Etosha I saw a mature kudu bull without any horns at all. The horns hadn’t broken off, it appeared as if he hadn’t been born with any, resembling a female. Also interested to hear a physiological viewpoint.

Blake Balcomb
Member
Guest

I have over-simplified things here in order for easy understanding of the non-genetics inclined.

All of us have the genetic information(DNA) that makes each and every one unique in their own right. This genetic information is found throughout every cell in the body and is in the form of structures, called genes, which are a set(two copies) of units of genetic messages/codes that tell the cell what it needs to be, to what kind of enzymes, body processes it needs to make etc. These genes are then collectively packaged into structures called chromosomes. All of us humans, have 23 pairs of these chromosomes that carry a variety of genetic information. To now focus on the sex-linked chrmosomes- Females have two X-chromosomes and males have one X-chromosome and a Y-chromosome. This Y-chromosome in males is unable to carry any useful genes and thus the males are at the mercy of the single X-chromosome. Genes if highly expressed(produced), both on the internal and external bodily attributes, are termed dominant genes. If the gene is rarely produced it is termed a recessive gene. For a recessive gene to occur in males, thus it appears on the X-chromosome and the result in most cases is a recessive attribute internally and externally. On females, due to there being two X-chromosomes, she would have the option of either carrying the recessive gene on one X-chromosomes and a dominant gene on the other X-chromosome and hence she would always have dominant gene expression in her cells. For her to have a recessive gene, she needs to have the recessive gene on both of her X-chromosomes.

This color morph can be due to two types of processes: (1) A recessive inherited gene or (2) A mutation in the “normal male coloring” genetic information during the developmental stages of this chap.

In the case of (1), for him to be a male he needs to have one X-chromosome and a Y-chromosome on his sex-linked chromosome. Thus when his mother and father mated, during the cellular development of the fertilized egg, he receives some genetic information from his mother and some from his father. Therefore he could have received his X-chromosome (and Y-chromosome) from either his father or one of either of two X-chromosomes from his mother. I suspect that this type of coloring is a recessive trait as it is not commonly seen in the Nyala’s or most other antelope for that matter-however it does occur(I recall two other instances where I have come across these odd looking chaps-I have not heard of this in other antelope species though) over a certain population. The frequency of this is not known (I certainly am not familiar with the cause of frequency, however im sure a statistician could crunch some numbers for me and work out the exact occurrence of this gene morph)- Also some recessive genes occur more readily than others. Thus, his coloring is a recessive (rare) inherited gene from his mother’s genetic information.

In case (2), this chap could have received the “normal male coloring” genes during early embryo development in his mother’s womb. And naturally with Nyala males, during later “teenage” years we see the color change to that of his father, as you pointed out. During this development, either a mutation; that is a change in his original “normal male coloring” gene, could have occurred or the “normal male coloring” gene is functional but has been suppressed or blocked and hence the female coloring prevails.

So will his coloring change to his father over time? Well I highly doubt it, looking at his horns and estimating his age, he will remain this color. Does he over express/ produce high levels of estrogen? Well perhaps so, however; I am not sure if the gene relating to color development is solely influenced by testosterone/estrogen-could be, but I certainly am not aware of this. However this is a plausible explanation, Adam. Since he could be expressing the “normal male coloring” gene, and high levels of estrogen could be forcing his body to behave in some way as female attributes. One sees/hears about this in human males with higher levels of estrogen that they develop breasts etc… How would one test this estrogen factor? Well, one could take blood samples and test your question of “high levels of female hormones” (this would be an interesting and novel ecological study and certainly a unique one, considering that the occurrence of this abnormal coloring is quite rare) and an answer could be found. Alternatively, one could monitor his behavior amongst other males-does he exhibit his typical male behavior of ‘ground-horning’ (Nyala males will scrape at the ground/earth/mud in sign of his masculinity) or his ‘lateral-display’ (Slow lateral movement of Nyala males, always contracting their dorsal hairs-which according to some researchers, can increase the overall appearance of the Nyala up to 40%, this display is linked to territory and dominance amongst males) or ‘mock-fighting’. This information could also be an exciting ecological find to report on! I hope this helps, and look forward to hearing others opinions to shed some more light on this peculiar color morph.

Adam Bannister
Guest contributor

Blake thank you so much for the very informative decoding of what you think is happening. Isn’t it wonderful that every once in a while we get these strange occurrences in the bush. Your description was very nicely and simply put for the now geneticists amongst us and Im sure that everyone will read your theory in interest. Im also interested in hearing what people have to say about this and other mutations/morphs. It is wonderfully encouraging and hugely rewarding for me to see this blog develop and grow into a platform where people are discussing and learning from both the wilderness and each other. Please keep the comments and debates coming…it keeps me writing.- Adam

Blake Balcomb
Member
Guest

No problem at all, Adam. As a Medical Biochemist I am limited with regards to the ecological/animal side of things. Well I am sure glad that I can access your blog across the Atlantic and hear some veld news! Great presentation and layout of your posting. Keep it up.

Judy Guffey
Member
Guest

Nothing to do with the morph comment line but…….HOORAY….just booked and deposited 7 nights in Londolozi….Dec. 21 to 28, 2012. Wish it were now but I will try to be patient. Thanks for all the photos and the blog. I read it daily and remember all the good times I’ve had at Londolozi.

Mele Kalikimaka and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou from Hawai’i.

Rich Laburn
Head of Digital

Hooray for that Judy!! Cannot wait to have you back here for a week this time next year. Rest assured, if you keep following the blog, you will be very clear on what the different prides and leopards are up to over the course of 2012. Rich

Geri Potter
Member
Guest

Does he appear to be solo…and yes I know males get kicked out of the herd after a certain age…I am wondering if there are other genetic mutations in the herd, females being able to reproduce repeatedly with a dominant male, but no telling if that male is so close that this mutation would occur. If so, this guy is a loner forever…:(. BUT on the flip side, if males and females can’t tell if he is dominant, then it is what it is. Are the herds becoming too inbred?

James Tyrrell
Member
Guest

Geri I saw this individual for the first time this morning and he was in the company of two other adult males, so it does not appear that he is being viewed as an outcast in any way by his species. What will happen when it comes to his attempting to establish dominance or mating is anyone’s guess though. Thankfully the male has been observed in the same area fairly consistently over the last while, so there is a good chance we will be able to continue to monitor him and his behaviour patterns for at least the immediate future.

Adam Bannister
Guest contributor

Apparently this male was seen again this morning…

David Dampier
Member
Guest

If I am not mistaken, some of the Nyala in the Sabi Sand were relocated here from Mkuzhe some years ago, which may explain the occurrence here now?

Tom
Member
Guest

Adam… forward all of this to Dr Cindy Harper at the University of Pretoria or find her on Facebook… (i would but i’m at the beach)… she did an interesting article on animal colouration in a WRSA publication Vol 4, no 3…. and has an understanding of the genetics involved in golden gnus and black impalas. hopefully she’ll have an insight worth sharing on Nyala…
Quoting her article: “Recessive or silent colour mutations can be present in populations for many generations without being expressed, simply because the carriers rarely mate. Without scientific investigation one cannot assume that colour variations are not beneficial to animals in natural populations or have any detrimental effects.”
“Generally (not always), lighter colours, specifically the blonde and red variety as opposed to the black or darker variety, are inherited in a recessive manner.”

Have a great Christmas, see you all on the 30th.

Penny Parker
Member
Guest

This is absolutely fascinating to read. And the comments are so rich and interesting. I must congratulate you on the progress of this blog. I have always been a fan, but the quality of the comments and the continued excellent posts keep a constant smile on my face!

Clive Curtis
Member
Guest

Hi Blake, Adam and all involved.
This is developing into a great blog, thank you Adam for your explanations.
To answer some of the behaviour questions regarding observations of ‘Red’ bulls:
Yes, these bulls display all ‘normal’ Nyala bull behaviour, from horning the ground (ascertion of dominance display) and strutting around ‘normal’ bulls with hairs and tail held erect.
They mix with both bachelor herds and breeding herds. I have not witnessed any unusual behaviour such as rejection toward these ‘red’ bulls before, they are accepted as any other Nyala would be.
Physical build of these ‘red’ bulls matches those of normal bulls, the only difference being the colour.
The colouration on these bulls does not change later as they get older, the colour remains the same- sometimes getting darker.

Right, that all being said, let me put a spanner in the works. Whilst on Safari in the Hluhluwe/False Bay area of Zululand over this new year I spotted this Nyala.
This animal defies most ot of what has been discussed:
It was spotted walking with two young ‘normal’ Nyala bulls. (Kudu bulls were in the vicinity by coincedence).
Body: Small, classic female shape and build.
Hide: Classic female colouration.
Horns: Atypical nyala horns. Long, very slender, and curved. One horn had broken off halfway.

This scenario appears to be what happens in species like Impala and Kudu, where it is a true female that has developed horns. But what is interesting with this case is that it was walking with two young bulls (unusual for a lone mature female to do this)……so……what do we have here??
I could not get to see the crown jewels, but this is more of a mystery scenario…….

I don’t know how to post a picture on the blog, so i will post to the facebook page……..

Regards,
Clive Curtis

Blake Balcomb
Member
Guest

Clive,
Thanks for this info, I have contacted some experts back in South Africa for their comments on this discussion. Let us see what they have to say/shed some more light.

-Blake.

Blake Balcomb
Member
Guest

Adam, no word from experts. Looking forward to your photographic updates on the post-flood change of veld. Keep up the good work.

Suzy
Member
Guest

I’ve just returned from a trip to Africa where several friends and I enjoyed a Swaziland safari. Since returning home, I have been searching the internet to discover the purpose of the two short white bars between the eyes of the male nyala that we saw there. So far I have not been successful in finding the answer and since I stumbled upon your sight just now, I wonder if anyone here might be able to enlighten me.

Matt Cowell
Member
Guest

Hi there folks
I have recently done a safari that included Mkuze G.Reserve. Whilst there I witnessed one of these strange coloured Nyalas. The animal in question exhibited a good set of horns, but had all the colouring of a female, but with small black fringes around where the legs join the body. I have a collection of pictures I took of this animal, but I could not find a penal sheath in any of them, which seems prominent among the males. This animal came to the water with a sub-adult male, but did not demonstrate any of the behaviour of the male when churning mud with his horns near the water’s edge.

The genetic info very interesting. Is it possible that hermaphrodites can occur in these high density populations?

I’ve been guiding for 30 years, seen some unusual stuff, but I haven’t come across this before.
Many thanks

Stan Hayman
Member
Guest

Hi There,
On Saturday 08 September 2012 at Nambiti Game Reserve (east of Ladysmith) I saw what appeared to be a fully grown female Nyala with fully developed horns. There were no signs of male colouration. Unfortunately I did not get photographs but the view was clear through good binoculars. The female coat colouration was far more dominantly that of a female than in the above photographs. Unfortunately I did not study genetalia etc.

Rob Eggleton
Member
Guest

I recently saw a similar animal at Tembe Elephant lodge. See
photo

Julian Wolfson
Member
Guest

Hi all I have just returned from a twelve day trip to the Kruger National Park, where I spent all my time in the Panda Maria area. On one of my many organised game drives,we spotted one of these “female looking” Nyalas, only this one had horns. The animals “crown jewels” were also not apparent. Do you have any knowledge of similar sightings in the area?

James Tyrrell
Photographic Guide/Media Team

Hi Julian,
It is only the single animal that we have recorded here, although I believe there have been a number of sightings in the Kruger over the years. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
Regards

Danie Landsberg
Member
Guest

We have seen a young Nyala, gender unknown that is almost white. Is this a well known colour mutation in Nyala?

Amy Attenborough
Media Team

Hi Danie. No, not that I know of. I have seen a male nyala (with fully developed horns) but that has the reddish coat of a female nyala but have never heard of this white mutation. Where did you see this nyala? Thanks, Amy

Danie Landsberg
Member
Guest

Hi Amy,

He/She was born in my herd. As it grows older it is now changing colour slightly, it has a brown back, but very much lighter than the rest of the nyala. But the head neck and legs are still white.

Petra Smit
Member
Guest

I live in Leeupoort, Limpopo, 70 kilometers from Bela-Bela, where we have an adult female nyala with long horns. The animals here roam between the houses and are very tame. I would love to know what the outcome is.

Connect with Londolozi

Follow Us

Sign up for our Newsletters

One moment...
Anonymous
Be the first to this photo
You and 1 others this photo
q

Filed under
Anonymous
10 April, 2798
+
Add Profile