Many blogs have been written over the years here at Londolozi detailing countless incredible sightings that guests and rangers have witnessed. Prides of lions hunting and feeding on impressive-sized kudu prey, are a few of them. It is no surprise that witnessing a kudu take down or kill is a grand feat, as the Greater Kudu is the second largest antelope in Southern Africa (after the Eland, which we do not find in the Sabi Sand Reserve).
However, unlike the plentiful impala we see roaming around Londolozi’s crests, spotting a Kudu on every game drive is no guarantee. It is not often that we’ll come across them in the open, as these animals often prefer browsing amongst thick shrubland or hugging the thicket areas as they spend their day foraging on any plant matter (leaves, twigs, shrubs, herbs, grasses, and roots; sometimes even fruits or flowers if available).
The Greater Kudu
Here at Londolozi, we get to see the Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), which is found in the Eastern and Southern parts of Africa. There is also a second species of Kudu, the Lesser Kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis), that is found in the Northeastern parts of Africa, which is about 35% smaller than the Greater Kudu.
“Female Greater Kudu stand up to 47 inches (approximately 4.9 feet/1.2 meters) at the shoulder and weigh between 260-460 pounds (120-200kg). This makes them much heavier on average than the male Lesser Kudu.
Male Greater Kudu stand 51-59 inches at the shoulder (approximately 4.25 to 5 feet/1.3 meters) and weigh 420-600 pounds (190-270kg). The Greater Kudu’s spectacular spiral horns can grow as tall as 6 feet (about 1.8 meters).”
Bushbuck and Nyala (two antelopes we commonly see within the gardens of the Londolozi camps and village) are closely related to the Kudu and all belong to the Tragelaphus family and also sport spiral-shaped horns. Their crowns, however, are much smaller than the majestic horns of a kudu bull.
So in this blog, I thought I would highlight three of the reasons why I am so fond of these animals!
1. Facial markings
Besides a male’s majestic spiral horns, their most identifiable characteristic in my opinion is their large upright ears and white facial markings that always seem to be the first thing I notice when we spot these animals, be it male or female.
They have a small, white chevron (v-shaped) band located between their eyes, which I compare to the likes of warrior face paint. The distinctive white upper lip of kudu is also a feature I often say compares to someone sipping on a hot drink and having foamed milk leave a marking.
They also have a number of vertical creamy white stripes that run down their narrow flanks. All of these markings combined contribute to the animal’s disruptive colouration, which is believed to help break the solid outline of the animal to camouflage them.
Kudus live in thicket habitats. They are considerably secretive antelope and tend to freeze if startled, allowing their disruptive colouration to blend them into their dappled environment. The white chevron on the kudu’s face and the creamy stripes down its back also resemble the shafts of light penetrating a canopy of vegetation, which is an adaptation to the thicket environments they tend to reside in most often. When threatened, their first response is also to dart into thick bush where their camouflage works best.
2. Impressive spiral horns
It is only the male Kudus that grow horns, which can reach up to 6 feet (about 1.8 meters) with two and a half spirals once fully grown. The spiral-style shaped horns, made of keratin, help the bulls lock horns with each other when engaged in fights over cows.
I find that just coming across a fully grown male with its horns is always a sight to be marvelled at. Although they are by no means the kings of the African bushveld; the impressiveness of the males as they strut around carrying this set of armour on their heads always gives me the impression that they carry a grandiose status of fortitude and strength amongst many of the animals we find here. Regardless of the impression they give, these antelope can be preyed upon by a number of predators, mainly lions or spotted hyenas, and younger calves by additional predators such as leopards, or African wild dogs.
3. Significance of their alarm call
Since sound does not travel easily through dense thickets, Kudus have large ears to help them detect even the smallest of noises in the thick environments where they spend most of their time. When listening, Kudus focus their ears in the direction of the sound stimuli and in the process take on a curious expression. As such, they have a reputation for being both curious and highly alert; often providing us with beautiful photographic opportunities if they happen to be found in an open environment.
Kudus make use of a very loud, deep “gruff” bark as an alarm call since low-frequency sound travels better in dense bush. It is also interesting to note that they make the loudest vocalization of all antelope.
Paying attention to the sounds around us while out on safari at Londolozi is a massive part of tracking and finding animals. Many of our game drives consist of switching off the vehicle at times to listen to the surrounding sounds of the bush, to aid us in our search of the bigger predators (in a previous blog, Robbie Ball describes how the alerting bark of the Kudu helped them in finding the leopard they had been tracking one afternoon).
And Kudus do not lie! If we hear a Kudu’s alarming bark, given their size, they are sure to have seen one of the bigger predators (either a leopard or lion) and it’s always an exciting response amongst the vehicle as we immediately try to locate the Kudu alarming whilst keeping an eager eye out for a leopard or lion lurking nearby!
A single cub of the Ximungwe Female's second litter. Initially rather skittish but is very relaxed now. Birth mark in his left eye.
I’ve always loved viewing Kudu whilst out on game drives – they are truly remarkable!
I’d love to hear which antelope is your favourite.