Mkubwa and Tandala Ndogo
kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros),
lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis)
||7 to 8
years in the wild and up to 23 years in
||Up to 9
months (greater kudu)
hunting dogs, spotted hyenas, humans
The greater kudu is considered by many to be the most
handsome of the tragelaphine antelopes, which includes the
bongo, eland, nyala, bushbuck and sitatunga.
Kudus, both the greater kudu and its close cousin the
lesser kudu, have stripes and spots on the body, and most have a
chevron of white hair on the forehead between the eyes.
Greater and lesser kudu males have long, spiral horns;
occasionally a female will have small ones. The greater kudu's
horns are spectacular and can grow as long as 72 inches, making
2 1/2 graceful twists. These beautifully shaped horns have long
been prized in Africa for use as musical instruments, honey
containers and symbolic ritual objects. In some cultures the
horns are thought to be the dwelling places of powerful spirits,
and in others they are a symbol for male potency. The horns are
seldom used in defense against predators; nor are they an
impediment in wooded habitats-the kudu tilts the chin up and
lays the horns against the back, moving easily through dense
Female greater kudus are noticeably smaller than the males.
By contrast, lesser kudus are even smaller, about 42 inches at
the shoulder; males weigh around 220 pounds while females
generally weigh about 50 pounds less. Lesser kudus have smaller
horns than the greater kudus and conspicuous white patches on
the upper and lower parts of the neck. Although both species are
bluish-gray, grayish-brown or rust color, the lesser has five to
six more lateral white stripes, for a total of 11 to 15. Both
species have a crest of long hair along the spine, and greater
kudus also have a fringe under the chin.
Lesser kudus are found in acacia and commiphora thornbush in
arid savannas; they rely on thickets for security and are rarely
found in open or scattered bush. Greater kudus are found in
woodlands and bushlands.
The hierarchy among kudu males is usually determined by age
and size. Males of about the same size and age engage in
sparring contests in which they approach one another slowly,
lock horns and push back and forth until one gives up. Usually
no serious injuries result, but remains of animals have been
found where the two combatants had locked horns in such a way
that they could not disengage. Dominance is usually quickly and
peacefully determined by a lateral display in which one male
stands sideways in front of the other and makes himself look as
large as possible. If the other is suitably impressed, dominance
Sometimes males form small bachelor groups, but more commonly
they are solitary and widely dispersed.
Kudus live in the drier areas of eastern and southern Africa,
wherever there is adequate low- and medium-level woody growth to
provide food and shelter. They are browsers and eat leaves and
shoots from a variety of plants. In dry seasons, they eat wild
watermelons and other fruit for the liquid they provide. The
lesser kudu is less dependent on water sources than the greater
kudu. Where farming has developed near their habitat, kudus will
sometimes make nocturnal visits to plantations and vegetable
plots. As they can make spectacular leaps of up to 6 feet, it
takes a high fence to keep them out.
Caring for the Young
Females and their offspring form small groups of six to 10.
The males usually only join them during mating season.
The pregnant female departs from her group to give birth,
leaving the newborn lying out for 4 or 5 weeks, one of the
longest periods of all the antelopes. The calf then begins to
accompany its mother for short periods of time and by 3 or 4
months is with her constantly. Soon after, the mother and calf
rejoin the female's group. Calves grow rapidly and at 6 months
are fairly independent of their mothers.
Lions, leopards, hunting dogs and spotted hyenas hunt kudu, and
cheetahs, smaller cats, eagles and pythons prey on the young.
Their numbers are also affected by humans hunting them for their
meat, hides and horns, or using their habitats for charcoal
burning and farming. Kudus are highly susceptible to the
rinderpest virus, and many scientists think recurring epidemics
of the disease have reduced kudu populations in East Africa.
Did you know?
- Their cryptic coloring and markings protect kudus by
camouflaging them. If alarmed they usually stand still and are
very difficult to spot.
- Kudus normally restrict their movements to a small home
range, but the scarcity of food in dry season may prompt them
to roam more widely.