Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

Kudu “Greater Kudu"

Tragelaphus strepsiceros (Pallas, 1766)

Pair of kudu bulls

Photo: Doug Lee

Arikaans:Koedoe
German:Kudu
French:Koudou
Swahili:Tandala
isiNdebele:Ibhalabhala
isiZulu:Umgankla/Igogo
isiXhosa:Igudi
seSotho:Tholo
seTswana:Tholo
Shona:Nhoro
Shangaan:Hlongo
Nama:Xaib
Khoi-khoi:Ku::du

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”.

Taxonomy

Classification

Supercohort:LAURASIATHERIA
Cohort:FERUNGULATA
Order:RUMINANTIA
Superfamily:BOVOIDEA
Family:BOVIDAE
Sub-family:Bovinae
Tribe:Tragelaphini
Genus:Tragelaphus
Species:melampus

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.

Image gallery

Click here to view more photographs.

Description

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

Wildlife Ranching Kudu comparison to man

Trophy

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.

Habitat requirement

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.

Distribution

Wildlife Ranching Kudu distribution maps

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.

Social structure

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

Information Table


Greater Kudu information table
Characteristic
Bull
Cow
Adult body weight
kg
174-315 (avg. 235)
110-210 (avg. 155)
Adult shoulder height
cm
128-152
119-141
Expected longevity
years
12-16
7-9
Age of sexual maturity
months
21-24
15-19
Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
years
5
3
Gestation
days

250-260
1st calf born at
months

3.8-4.5
Calving interval
months

10-15
Post maturity age (last mating)
years
9
9
Rutting season
Apr-Jun
Calving season:
Dec-May
Weaning age days
135-165
Gender ratio: natural (all ages)
1
1.1
Gender ratio: production (all ages)
1
1.6
Mating Ratio: natural (adults)
1
1.4-1.8
Mating Ratio: production (adults)
1
2.5-4.2
Re-establishment: absolute minimum number needed
1
2
Re-establishment: smallest viable population size
3
9
Spatial behaviour: home range
ha
90-600
90-600
Spatial Behaviour: Territory Range
ha
None
None
Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
LSU
0.45 per animal
(12% of diet)
0.42 per animal
(12% of diet)
Browsing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio: (browse):
BU
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
ha
300
Annual population growth 13-28% (mean 19%)
Optimal annual rainfall
300-500 mm
Optimal vegetation structure:
Grass height:
Woody canopy cover:

6-6.5 cm
15-85%

Bibliography

  1. Allen-Rowlandson, TS, 1980. The social and spatial organization of the greater kudu in the Andries Vosloo Kudu Reserve. M.Sc. Thesis, Rhodes Univ.
  2. Boomker, EA, 1987. Fermentation and digestion in the kudu. D.Sc. Thesis, Univ. of Pretoria.
  3. Du Plessis, SF, 1969. The past and present geographical distribution of the Perrisodactyla and Artiodactyla in Southern Africa. M.Sc. Thesis, Univ. of Pretoria.
  4. Furstenburg, D, 2000. Integrated kudu, duiker, bushbuck and boer goat production systems in Valley Bushveld: ecological interactions, processes & constraints. Pelea 19:134-141.
  5. Furstenburg, D, 2002. Kudu. Game& Hunt 8(3).
  6. Furstenburg, D, 2005. The Kudu. In: Intensive Wildlife Production in Southern Africa, Eds. Bothma, J Du P & N Van Rooyen. Van Shaik Publishers, Pretoria.
  7. IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology), 1998. Tragelaphus. In: African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals, Vol 1 & 2. European Commission Directorate, Bruxelles.
  8. IUCN, 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Gland, Switzerland.
  9. Kingdon, J, 1989. East African Mammals; An atlas of evolution in Africa – Bovids, Vol 111D, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  10. Novellie, PA, 1983. Feeding ecology of the kudu in the Kruger Nationasl Park. D.Sc. Thesis, Univ. of Pretoria.
  11. Nowak, RM, 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World 6th edn. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  12. Owen-Smith, RN, 1990. Demography of a large herbivore, the greater kudu in relation to rainfall. J. Anim. Ecol. 59:893-913.
  13. Owen-Smith, RN, 1994. Foraging responses of kudu to seasonal changes in food resources: elasticity in constraints. Ecology 75:1050-1062.
  14. Simpson, CD, 1966. Tooth eruption, growth and ageing criteria in greater kudu. Anoldia 2:1-12.
  15. Simpson, CD, 1968. Reproduction and population structure in greater kudu in Rhodesia. J. Wildl. Mgmt. 32:149-162.
  16. Simpson, CD, 1972. Some characteristics of tragelaphine horn growth and their relationship to age in grearter kudu and bushbuck. J. Sth. Afr. Wildl. Mgmt. Ass. 2:1-8.
  17. Simpson, CD, 1972. An evaluation of seasonal movement in greater kudu populations in three localities in South Africa. Zool. Afr. 7:197-205.
  18. Skead, CJ, 1987. Historical Mammal Incidence in the Cape. Vol 1 & 2, Government Printer, Cape Town.
  19. Skinner, JD, & Chimba CT, 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  20. Smithers, RHN, 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 1st edn. University of Pretoria, CTP Book Printers, Cape Town.
  21. Van Hoven, W, 1991. Mortalities in kudu populations related to chemical defence in trees. J. Afr. Zool. 105:141-145.
  22. Ward, R, 2006. Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, 27th edn. Rowland Ward Publications, Johannesburg.
  23. Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2008. Aepyceros melampus. http://en.wikipedia.org.
  24. Wilson, DE & Reeder, DM, 1993. Mammal Species of the World, 2nd edn. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
South African Web Design and Hosting by eConsultant.