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Bushbuck
FACT FILE:
Swahili Name: Pongo or mbawala
Scientific Name: Tragelaphus scriptus
Size: 25 to 35 inches at the shoulder
Weight: 90 to 180 pounds
Lifespan: 12 years or more
Habitat: Deep forest
Diet: Browsers/grazer
Gestation: About 6 months
Predators: Leopards


The shy and elusive bushbuck is widely distributed over sub-Saharan Africa. In East Africa it is found in a variety of habitats, though rarely on open land. Bushbucks have a lot of individual and regional differences in their coat colors and patterns. As many as 40 varieties have been described. In general, bushbuck inhabiting deep forest have darker coats.

Physical Characteristics
All varieties and both males and females have geometrically shaped white patches or spots on the most mobile parts of the body the ears, chin, tail, legs and neck, as well as a band of white at the base of the neck. Males make the markings more visible during their displays when they arch their backs and slowly circle one another, walking in a tense, high-stepping gait.

Though under some circumstances makes fight in earnest and death results, the highly ritualized displays usually make fighting unnecessary. The hierarchy among males is age-based as they get older and the chestnut color changes to dark brown, they white markings are more conspicuous. Only male bushbucks have horns, which are between 10 and 20 inches long and grow straight back. At 10 months, young males sprout horns that are strongly twisted and at maturity form the first loop of a spiral. Other antelopes with spiral horns are sitatungas, bongos, elands and kudus.

Habitat
Bushbucks are forest-edge antelopes. They live in habitat including rain forests, montane forests, forest-savanna mosaics and bush savannas.

Behavior
Bushbucks are basically solitary animals. Most group associations, except for a female and her latest young, are very temporary and only last a few hours or days. These antelopes have small home ranges, which may overlap with those of other bushbuck. Even so, there still is not much contact as adult individuals prefer to stay by themselves in their separate areas. Mature males usually go out of their way to avoid contact with each other.

Usually most active during early morning and part of the night, bushbucks become almost entirely nocturnal in areas where they are apt to be disturbed frequently during the day. When alarmed, individuals react in a variety of ways. If they are in forest or thick bush, they may "freeze" in one position and remain very still, their coloring camouflaging them. Sometimes they will sink to the ground and lie flat, or they may bound away, making a series of hoarse barks. When surprised in the open, they sometimes stand still or slowly walk to the nearest cover.

Diet
Bushbucks need some water but can subsist on dew if necessary. Foods vary in different habitats, with leguminous herbs and shrubs making up most of the diet; grass, fallen fruit, acacia pods, tubers, bark and flowers are also eaten. Bushbucks move about slowly and quietly when feeding, carefully selecting their food.

Caring for the Young
Bushbucks are not territorial but will defend an area that a female in heat in using. After giving birth, the mother cleans the newborn calf and eats the placenta. She leaves the calf well hidden. When she visits and suckles it, she eats its dung so no scent remains to attract predators. They young calf does not accompany its mother for long periods during the day until it is about 4 months old. A female and her calf often play together, running in circle chasing each other.

Predators
Bushbucks are most vulnerable to predators when on the run, but if cornered the male will fight bravely; if attacked, it may become a dangerous foe.

The principal predator is the leopard, but lions, hyenas, cheetahs, hunting dogs and crocodiles prey on bushbucks too. The young are also caught by servals, golden cats, eagles and pythons as well as chimpanzees and baboons. Even though baboons sometimes eat the young, bushbucks continue to associate closely with them at times, picking up fallen fruit and other foods that foraging baboons drop.

Unlike buffaloes and many other animals, bushbucks do not tolerate oxpeckers or other birds that help control insect pests. As a result, they often have numerous ticks on their head and neck. They also suffer from the common ungulate diseases, including rinderpest, which diminished their numbers in the last 19th century.

Did you know?
  • The bushbuck's hunched-up gait makes it a slow and clumsy runner, but it is a good swimmer and can jump 6-foot-high fences.
  • Although bushbucks live in both moist and dry habitats, their most important requirement is good cover of forest or bush to provide shelter and food.


                                                       copyright: Paul Janssen