On safari, you may come across a pair of large, alert and friendly ears that catch your attention as you drive by. You may then notice a pair of spectacular horns on a male kudu. These distinct characteristics teamed with a greyish, brown coat and white markings, as well as a white smudge between the eyes make up the features of a greater kudu that are hard to miss.
The greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is arguably one of the most beautiful species of antelope in Southern Africa. The common name “kudu” stems from the indigenous Khoikhoi language of Southern Africa. The scientific name is derived from Greek: “Tragos” denotes a ‘he-goat’ and “elaphos” ‘a deer’; “Strephis” means ‘twisting’ and ”Keras” means ‘horn’. This magnificent species is found throughout eastern and southern Africa. Lalibela is home to the greater kudu and there is no doubt that you will get to spot a few of these antelope on one of your game drives.
Here are some interesting facts about this graceful antelope:
1. Males have impressive horns.
Males have a spectacular set of spiraled horns. Horns only start to grow when a male is between six and twelve months old. The number of turns on the spirals is related to their age. When a male is two years old, they will have one twist and only at the age of six years will they have the full two and a half twists.
2. Olympic high jumpers.
Despite their large size, kudus are very agile and can easily jump a height of two metres. They have been known to jump as high as three and a half metres when stressed.
3. The grey ghosts of Africa.
Their greyish and brown coat has white vertical stripes that cover their body. These markings help to camouflage the kudu and protect them from predators. Kudu often ‘freeze’ in dense bush and have a remarkable ability to melt away into the shadows. They have not developed the reputation as the ‘grey ghosts of the African bush’ for nothing!
4. They have big ears.
Their large ears serve as a satellite dish and are extremely sensitive to noise, picking up even the slightest sound in the thick dense bush. When listening, kudu focus their ears in the direction of the noise.
5. They’re vegetarians.
Kudus are considered browses, which means they feed on leaves of trees, grasses, fallen fruits, flowers and plants. They normally get water from waterholes and from the moisture in the food that they eat.
6. Displays of dominance.
The kudu is regarded as a peaceful antelope because when threatened, they prefer to run away from danger, rather than fight. Males step out of this peaceful nature when it comes to competing for a female. Kudu bulls are sometimes seen thrashing bushes or mud with their forehead or horns to advertise their status. When males compete for a female, they lock horns to determine who is stronger. After locking horns, they shove each other around until one gives up, talk about “last man standing!”
7. They have a unique alarm call.
Kudu make use of a very loud, deep bark or grunt as an alarm call which they use to warn other kudu of potential danger. Out of all the antelope species, the Kudu makes the loudest vocalisation.
8. They are gregarious.
Females (cows) and their young prefer to live in small groups of about 6 – 15 individuals. Males (bulls) are predominantly solitary and often form small bachelor herds with other males. Males will only join the females during mating season.
9. Active early morning and late afternoon.
Kudu are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at dawn and dusk when they drink and feed. During the day, they prefer to keep themselves covered by thick bush.
10. They have small hooves.
Kudu have relatively small hooves for their body size. When walking, their hind feet step into the track where the front foot has just been. This is known as registering. This method of walking allows the animal to walk quietly through the thick bush.
Make sure to look out for the kudu on your next safari at Lalibela!