Species Profile: Greater Kudu
By Emma Griggs (University of British Columbia ’18)
The kudu, or Tragelaphus strepsicerus as they’re known by their friends, stand with their shoulder at around 1 and a half metres tall, and are close relatives of elands and sitatunga. They have a white bar across their face, just in front of their eyes, and white stripes on their backs. The males have large, spiralling horns and a beard, whereas female kudus only have very large ears.
Kudus are mainly browsers, feeding mostly on the leaves and occasionally branches of low bushes, trees and shrubs. They actually conduct nearly half of their foraging at night. They are found near where water is available in woodlands and savannahs, but they are able to subsist in waterless areas for a fairly significant amount of time if need be.
In terms of their behaviour, kudus are actually quite unique. The males and females travel in separate groups during the year, and join only in the mating season (typical courtship includes a variety of barks, whines, snorts, grunts, and other ‘attractive’ sounds). After a 9-month gestation period (just like humans) their young are born mainly in late summer. Newborns actually spend the first two weeks of their lives in hiding though, and only come out and interact with the rest of the group after that time. Mothers communicate with their calves with an odd, relatively loud smacking sound.
Herds usually consist of 1-3 females plus their offspring, and groups of males can contain anywhere from 2 up to 10 members.
What do you think, out of the following, is the most likely way that kudus respond to predators?
A) They stand their ground and lower their horns in front of them to warn the predator, B) they flee, C) they sneak behind bushes, taking their time to slip away, or last but not least, they D) run in circles around their predator to intimidate them and make them dizzy.
The answer is actually C! Kudus will often try to sneak away, hiding behind bushes or trees, before they flee.
What would you believe is the most common reason for fights among kudus?
A) They are competing for access to a waterhole, B) males will compete over mating rights over a certain female, C) A larger male is simply showing a smaller one who is boss, or D) The male wishes to fight with another in an attempt to decrease the size of their horns because they feel self-conscious.
The answer is again, C! In fact, kudu do not feel inclined to fight often at all—what most likely occurs is 2 bulls of unequal size meet and the larger will want to show his dominance, and after a brief scuffle, the smaller kudu will soon withdraw. Proof of fighting among kudus is usually interlocked horns found after death, which occurs most often when they are in captivity, where they become more aggressive when forced into a small area with other males. There are of course some interlocked horns found in the wild, but it is not as common as one would think.