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Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
Kudu “Greater Kudu"
Tragelaphus strepsiceros (Pallas, 1766)
Photo: Doug Lee
IUCN Conservation Status:
Lower Risk, conservation dependent (LR/cd)
Kudu first became known through Kolbe’s book on “De Kaap de Goede Hoop” in 1727. Evidence exists for the occurrence of “koo-doos” in the city of Cape Town at the time of European colonization. The name kudu originate from the Hottentot or Khoi-khoi word “ku::du”.
There are two species:
- the greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros
- the lesser kudu Tragelaphus imberbis,
and three sub-species:
- the southern greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros strepsiceros
- the East African greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros bea
- the northern greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros cottoni
During the 1700’s and 1800’s the Eastern Cape kudu became isolated from the rest of South Africa’s populations as a result of human settlement. At present this population is managed as a sub-population that differs in size and trophy quality. This is a mistake, as a genetically new sub-species is being created artificially.
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A large, slender, elegant antelope. Adult bulls of the greater kudu are generally 35% taller than the lesser kudu. Both sexes of the greater kudu have a mane that continues as a whitish dorsal crest. The lesser kudu does not have a mane. The greater kudu has 9-10 vertical white stripes, the eastern African greater kudu 6-8 and the northern greater kudu, 4-7. The colour of the coat differs, being a pale greyish in the southern greater kudu, a comparatively richer colour in the eastern African greater kudu and much paler in the northern greater kudu. The underside of the short, furry, bushy tail flashes white when the animal is in flight. Ears are large, round and with a white fringe. The maximum mass for cows is reached at 4-5 years and then decreases slightly with age. Bulls do not reach their maximum body size before the age of 12 years.
Comparison To Man
The magnificent horns are spread in beautiful open spirals, and smooth without grooves. The number of turns of the spirals is related to age. There is no scientific proof for claims that narrow horns relate to bush dwelling or montane kudu and wide horns to plains kudu, as the two forms are found in both habitats.
Well developed horns in bulls but cows with inferior, rudimentary, deformed horns occasionally occur. Rowland Ward trophy status is reached after seven years.
Broken bushveld, savannah and open woodland of deciduous plants with scattered thicket bush clumps for refuge, both on plains and mountain slopes. Kudu are widespread in the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa, ranging from Sudan and Ethiopia in the north, to the Western and Eastern Cape in the south. Their use of a specific habitat is reliant on the density of woody plants. Kudu are seldom found in completely open country although they may be temporarily attracted to it by forage such as broadleaf forbs and dwarf succulents. It is essential that the habitat contains a high diversity of fodder plants, especially trees and shrubs, as they do not thrive on homogenous vegetation of low diversity. Highly dense coastal dune thickets and evergreen forests are totally avoided. Optimal annual rainfall is 300-500 mm. High mortalities are common when sudden wet, cold spells occur, especially during periods of drought. Such mortalities were widespread in the Karoo and Eastern Cape in 1979, 1983, 1991-’92, 1996 and 2002, most deaths being adult cows aged over six years. Kudu are naturally diurnal but human disturbance has forced them to become predominantly nocturnal.
Feeding & Nutrition
Kudu are non-selective, bulk browsers, feeding on leaves, shoots, pods or fruit of a wide range of shrubs, trees, dicot forbs and succulents. They consume large quantities of roughage material. In the Eastern Cape valley bushveld the diet consists of 5-12% grass, 15-18% dicot broad leaf forbs and 70-80% tree and shrub browse. The forb to browse ratio differs greatly with varying rainfalls and seasons. Studies in the northern savannah mixed bushveld indicated a diet of 18% grass, 21% forbs and 61% browse. An adult, non-lactating kudu of 210 kg consumes 3.7 kg dried plant material per day in a dry winter and 5 kg per day in a wet summer. There is no particular selection of young fast-fermenting plant parts, the mean bite size measuring 3.7-4.5 cm from both old and young twig ends. A dietary protein intake of 9-11% and 19-23% fibre should be maintained throughout the year. Kudu can adapt to a gentle, slow change of climate and veld condition but are intolerant of rapid changes in food quality. A daily water intake of 7-9 litres is required in the warmer northern and western distribution ranges.
Kudu are semi-gregarious and family bonding is weak. Group structures are unstable as members constantly drift between adjacent family groups. The mean group size is 4.5, with a maximum of 20-35. During droughts temporary gatherings of up to 60 animals can be found on open “brak”-veld. The mean number of groups overlapping and sharing the same home range area is eight and, areas that contain a high level of mineral salts. Kudu do not migrate and have a fixed permanent home range which enlarge to double the size in dry winter, but shrink again at the onslaught of a wetter summer. Some sub-adults leave their groups and may travel up to 80 km to establish their own home ranges. Home ranges overlap by as much as 80% and the overlap may be shared by up to eight different groups.
The social structure comprises of:
- Family breeding groups of 1-2 socially mature bulls, 2-4 adult cows and 1-3 youngsters
- Bachelor groups of 2-6 sub-adult bulls of 2-5 years
- Socially mature male groups of 2-4 bulls of 5-8 years
- Post-mature, non-breeding male groups of 2-6 bulls over eight years
Composition of a natural population is:
- 47% socially mature adult cows aged 3-9 years
- 7% second year heifers aged >2-3 years
- 7% first-year heifers aged >1-2 years
- 18% socially mature adult bulls aged 2<8 years
- 4% post-mature trophy bulls of 8 years and older
- 9% male calves aged <1 year
- 8% female calves aged <1 year
|Greater Kudu information table
|Adult body weight
|Adult shoulder height
|Age of sexual maturity
|Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
|1st calf born at
|Post maturity age (last mating)
|Gender ratio: natural (all ages)
|Gender ratio: production (all ages)
Ratio: natural (adults)
Ratio: production (adults)
|Re-establishment: absolute minimum number needed
|Re-establishment: smallest viable population size
|Spatial behaviour: home range
|Spatial Behaviour: Territory
|Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
0.45 per animal
(12% of diet)
|0.42 per animal
(12% of diet)
|Browsing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio: (browse):
||1.1 per animal
(88% of diet)
|1.1 per animal
(88% of diet)
|Maximum stocking load
||80 animals per 1000 ha
(at 350-450 mm annual rainfall)
|Minimum habitat size required
|Annual population growth||13-28% (mean 19%)|
|Optimal annual rainfall
|Optimal vegetation structure:
Woody canopy cover:
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