Often thought of as the most beautiful antelope, the lesser kudu has a single white stripe running down the back and white stripes running off this central stripe down the sides. These stripes contrast with a red-brown background in females and a grey background in males. Young are even redder than females, but males will turn grey between 1.5 to 2 years. The face is distinctive with a black stripe from each eye to the nose, and a white stripe from each eye to the centre. The legs are fawn, with white patches above the hooves. White patches are also seen on the throat and chest, together with a central black stripe. The belly is pure white, the ears are large and the horns are long and spiralled (2).
This elegant antelope is fairly solitary; females are usually found in groups of two or three, or with calves, and males are often found alone. Young males will stay with their mothers for up to two years, but will not acquire enough social status to mate until four to five years old. When large enough, males fight by locking horns and pushing each other backwards. Males and females will also fight each other for superiority, by standing up on hind legs to try to knock each other down, but the larger males normally win. Females are pregnant for seven to eight months, and will separate from their small group to give birth to a single calf (2). The calf has just a one in four chance of surviving to three years old due to disease and predation by leopards, hunting dogs and spotted hyenas (2)(4).
The lesser kudu is mainly nocturnal and camouflages well when hiding in dense thickets after sunrise. It feeds at dusk and dawn, eating leaves, shoots, twigs, fruits, grasses and herbs (2). When startled, the lesser kudu will bark and runs in bounding leaps (2), holding the tail upright to reveal the white underside (4).
The lesser kudu is hunted for meat and its horns (2), which are hollowed out and used as wind instruments, honey containers and in spiritual rituals as they are thought to house powerful spirits as well as being a symbol of male virility (4). Lesser kudu are also vulnerable to the rinderpest virus which periodically breaks out and reduces populations (5).
The lesser kudu occurs in several National Parks and is part of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s studbook program which ensures the most possible genetic diversity within the captive breeding population of lesser kudus (6).
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