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Greater Kudu @ Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Photo: Håvard Rosenlund

Greater Kudu

Greater kudu - Tragelaphus strepsiceros - Distribution mapThe greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is one of the largest species of antelope. It is the biggest of the two kudu species, the other being the lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis). Kudus are most famous for their large spiralling horns, which are found only on males in both species. The greater kudu male is much larger than the female and can stand as tall as 1.6 m (63 in) at the shoulder and weigh up to 270 kg (600 lb). Females only reach 1 m (39 in) at the shoulder and weigh up to 210 kg (460 lb). Both sexes have a white patch between the eyes, 4-12 vertical white stripes on the back and a coat that can be from grey and greyish-blue to reddish-brown. Apart from size and horns, males are the only sex to grow a mane down the front.

Diet and habitat

Greater kudus do not like open habitats and prefer thicker more bushy vegetation, rocky hillsides and woodlands. They are additionally highly dependent on water. Greater kudus are mixed feeders and will feed on leaves, shoots, roots, fruits as well as grass. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon and will spend most of the hottest hours in the shade under trees and in forests. They will actively seek out water, and do sometimes walk long distances to find a water source. They can also obtain water by eating roots and bulbs.

Social behaviour

Greater kudus live in social groups. Females live in groups from 6-20 individuals, and young males often live in bachelor herds. Older males do sometimes join such herds, but male greater kudus live alone throughout most of their adult lives only to join with female herds during breeding season. You do get mixed herds with males and females, but those are only temporary and will split up with only females and young remaining as a core group.

Horns and fighting

The horns of the greater kudu is a commonly used symbol throughout Africa. The larger the horn the more dominant the bull. Because of the size and weight of the horn, kudu males grow big, thick and muscular necks. A greater kudu horn on a fully grown male will spiral two and a half turn, and occasionally three. If straightened, a horn can measure 1.2 m (47 in). The record is 1.87 m (73.5 in). The males will use the horns to fight each other for dominance. Sometimes two bulls get locked together because the horns get entwined. When horns get locked in this way they cannot free themselves and will eventually starve and die.

Two male greater kudus fighting @ Eastern Shores - iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Photo: Håvard Rosenlund

Two male greater kudus fighting @ Eastern Shores – iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Photo: Håvard Rosenlund

Reproduction

The mating season for greater kudus start at the end of the rainy season. Males will court the females through a ritual before being allowed to mate with her. After a gestation period of eight months, the female kudu will give birth to one, or rarely two, calves. The calf will stay hidden away for the first couple of weeks of its life, and after four or five weeks it will start walking with the herd in daytime. Males reach independence already after six months and females after 1-2 years. The horns of males will start growing between the age of 6-12 months and will reach its first twist after 2 years. The horns will reach their full length at around 6 years of age. Greater kudus have been known to survive for up to 20 years in captivity.

Predation

Greater kudus are preyed on by all the large carnivores, such as lion, leopard, wild dog, and hyena. Cheetah is not strong enough to take down a big male but will go for females or young. Greater kudus are not fast and nimble, and do not stand a chance to outrun predators in open landscapes. They therefore rely on dense vegetation and their ability to leap through thick bush to escape predators. When running from predators they can jump over high obstacles and have been known to jump as high as 3.5 meters (11.48 ft) under stress.

Status

The greater kudu is divided into three subspecies, T. s. strepsiceros, T. s. chora, and T. s. cottoni. It is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List and the population is stable at present. It is still a targeted species for poachers as well as hunters, and its meat is common and legally found at stores for game meat. Some of its range has been lost to human disturbance, but some human activity, such as setting up wells and water sources in drier areas, has helped some wild greater kudu populations to extend their range.

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