Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusTragelaphus (1)
SizeMale head-body length: 195 - 245 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 185 - 235 cm (2)
Male weight: 190 - 315 kg (2)
Female weight: 120 - 215 kg (2)

The greater kudu is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is a handsome antelope that is easily distinguished by the male’s spectacular spiral horns, which can reach astonishing lengths of over a metre. It can also be identified by the six to ten thin, pale stripes against its tawny to grey-brown body (2) (3).

The female greater kudu is smaller than male, and lacks the impressive horns. The coat colour of the female is also somewhat different, varying from sandy yellowish-grey to russet, against which the thin stripes are conspicuous (2) (4).

Both sexes have a crest of hair that runs along the middle of the back and forms a mane (2), and there is a distinct white band across the face between the eyes. The large, rounded ears of the greater kudu give a slightly comical appearance (5).

The greater kudu’s range extends from the mountains of southeast Chad to Sudan and Ethiopia, and throughout the drier areas of eastern and southern Africa (2). In southern Africa the greater kudu occurs mainly in the north and east, with isolated populations in the Cape Province (4) (5).

The greater kudu inhabits savanna woodland, especially in hilly, broken ground, as well as woods along watercourses. This species tends to avoid open grassland and forest (2) (5).

A sociable animal, the greater kudu occurs in groups of up to 25 females and their offspring of both sexes. The members of the group mingle and separate frequently (2). The larger male greater kudus roam more widely and form loose bachelor groups, generally only joining female herds during the mating season, which extends through April and May in South Africa (3).

During the breeding season, the necks of the mature males swell to display their bulging muscles, and aggression between males is common. When rival males meet, one stands with its mane erect in a posture that best exaggerates the male’s size, while the other circles around. These displays can sometimes develop into fights, with one male locking its strong, spiral horns around the body of its opponent. Occasionally, the horns of the two males may become intertwined and, unable to free themselves from this position, both competitors may die (3).

The greater kudu is always alert to predators (5), such as lions and spotted hyenas (3), and will flee rapidly from any potential danger. Despite its bulky size, the greater kudu is remarkably agile and is surprisingly adept at jumping, being easily capable of clearing a two-metre fence (5).

The calves of the greater kudu are born in January and February, after a nine month gestation period. For the first three to four weeks of life, the calf lies hidden in vegetation, with the female visiting to nurse it (3) (4). Female calves remain with the mother’s herd, whereas males disperse after two years of age (3).

The greater kudu feeds on a range of foliage, herbs, vines, fruits, flowers and grass, the composition of its diet varying depending on the season (2). The long legs and neck of the kudu enable it to reach food at great heights, which are exceeded only by the giraffe (2).

The greater kudu is fairly abundant in parts of southern and south-central Africa, but becomes increasingly uncommon northward into East Africa (5). This species is believed to be ‘endangered’ in Somalia and Uganda and ‘vulnerable’ in Chad and Kenya (2).

Hunting poses a threat to the greater kudu as it is prized for its beautiful horns and meat. Human encroachment and habitat destruction may also have a detrimental impact on this species (6). Populations of the greater kudu are susceptible to outbreaks of disease, such as anthrax and rabies, but fortunately kudu populations appear to recover rapidly from disease-caused mortality (3).

The greater kudu is well represented in national parks and reserves (2), such as the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania (7) and the Kruger National Park and Baviaanskloof Protected Area in South Africa. This latter area forms part of an important World Heritage Site, the Cape Floral Kingdom (8).

More information on the greater kudu:

Authenticated (11/04/08) by Dr Jeremy David.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Limited, London.
  3. Mills, G. and Hes, L. (1997) The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  4. David, J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  5. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens - Greater kudu (December, 2007)
    http://www.jacksonvillezoo.org/animals/mammals/greater_kudu/
  7. UNEP-WCMC: Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (December, 2007)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/medialibrary/2011/06/28/5791781f/Selous%20Game%20Reserve.pdf
  8. UNEP-WCMC: Cape Floral Protected Areas of South Africa (December, 2007)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/medialibrary/2011/06/29/2823bc8a/Cape%20Floral.pdf