Mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni)

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Male mountain nyalas
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Mountain nyala fact file

Mountain nyala description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusTragelaphus (1)

The last of the large ungulate species to be discovered in Africa (4), the mountain nyala is an elegant and rather attractively marked antelope, with a greyish to chestnut-brown coat, a white chevron between the eyes, two white spots on the cheeks, two white patches on the throat and chest, white spots on the flanks and rump, and up to nine poorly defined white stripes on the sides (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The underparts are slightly paler, and the dark legs bear white patches on the insides (3) (4) (6), while the tail is rather bushy, with a white underside (6) (7). The pattern of markings may be unique to the individual (4). The coat of the mountain nyala is smooth and glossy during the summer, becoming shaggier during winter months (6) (8).

The male mountain nyala is larger than the female, and bears long, spiralling horns (2) (3) (4) (5) (6), which may grow to 118 centimetres in length (2) (6), developing ivory-coloured tips as the male matures (4) (6). The male may also be darker than the female, and possesses shaggier hair on the neck, and a dorsal crest of brown and white hair running from the neck to the base of the tail (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). Although named after the nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) of southern Africa, the mountain nyala is now thought to be more similar to the greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) (3) (5) (6).

Size
Head-body length: 190 - 260 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 90 - 135 cm (2)
Tail length: 20 - 25 cm (3)
Weight
150 - 320 kg (3) (4)
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Mountain nyala biology

Most active in the evening and early morning (2) (11), the mountain nyala browses on bushes, trees and herbs (3) (4) (8) (9), and will also take grasses, ferns, aquatic plants and lichens (4) (6) (8). Individuals often shelter in dense cover such as woodland and heather during periods of cold or heat (3) (9), and the attractive markings may help to conceal the animal by breaking up its form. The markings also play a role in social communication (4) (7), with the male’s white dorsal crest raised during display, and the white underside of the tail repeatedly hidden and exposed during flight (6) (11).

The mountain nyala may occur alone or in small, loose groups averaging around eight to nine females and young, although groups of up to 96 have been reported, and group structure may vary with the season. Young males may associate in bachelor groups, while older males are usually solitary (2) (4) (9) (11) (12). The mountain nyala does not appear to be territorial, but males may establish a dominance hierarchy (4) (6) (9). Mating usually takes place in the dry season, between December and January, and the female gives birth to a single calf, usually in the late wet season between August and September, after a gestation period of about eight to nine months (3) (4) (6) (8) (9). The calf is light in colour, darkening with age, and lies up in dense cover for a few weeks after birth (4) (6) (7) (8). Suckling lasts for three to four months, and the calf remains with the female for up to two years (4) (6) (8).

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Mountain nyala range

The mountain nyala is endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia, southeast of the Rift Valley (1) (2) (9) (10) (11). The species has been eliminated from much of its former range, and now occurs mainly in the Bale Mountains National Park, with smaller, scattered populations in the Bale, Arsi and Chercher Mountains (1) (10).

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Mountain nyala habitat

True to its name, the mountain nyala inhabits high-altitude woodland, grassland, bush, heathland and Afro-alpine moorland, at elevations of 3,000 to 4,300 metres, although it has also been recorded as low as 1,600 metres (1) (4) (9) (10) (11). It is likely that the species has been forced into higher areas by agriculture and livestock grazing (1) (4).

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Mountain nyala status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Mountain nyala threats

The mountain nyala has undergone a substantial decline in recent decades, from an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 individuals in the 1960s (2) (11), to perhaps fewer than 2,500 today (1), although others believe it to number nearer 4,000 (4). It has also reduced in range, and remaining populations are fragmented, making them particularly vulnerable (1) (10). The main threats to the mountain nyala come from human activity within its range, with increasing human and livestock populations putting ever-increasing pressure on the species through illegal hunting, competition with cattle, predation by domestic dogs, and habitat clearance for agriculture, grazing, firewood harvesting and settlement (1) (2) (4) (10) (11). The species has been extensively hunted for its meat and horns, and there is continued pressure from the trophy hunting industry to increase hunting quotas (1) (4).

The mountain nyala population showed a dramatic increase during the 1980s following the creation of Bale Mountains National Park, but political and civil unrest in 1991 led to increased encroachment and persecution by humans, and the number of mountain nyala in the park fell to a low of around 150 to 260 animals. There has since been a good recovery, with an estimated 680 to 730 counted in the park between 2000 and 2001, and possibly over 1,000 since then (1) (10) (12) (13). However, less effective protection elsewhere has resulted in ongoing declines (9).

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Mountain nyala conservation

Despite being fully protected by law, enforcement is generally absent, and the mountain nyala is only effectively protected within a small area in the north of Bale Mountains National Park, which is estimated to hold a large proportion of the total population (1) (9) (14). A smaller protected area, Kuni-Muktar Wildlife Sanctuary, was established for the species in 1990, but severe poaching, deforestation, cultivation and erosion were thought to have eliminated the mountain nyala there (1) (10), until the presence of a small population was confirmed in 2003 (4). No mountain nyalas are currently kept in captivity (2) (10) (12), and it has been suggested that a self-sustaining captive population be established as an insurance against further losses in the wild (1) (10).

The mountain nyala is a flagship species for conservation in Bale Mountains National Park (1) (10), but its future survival will depend on increased protection from illegal activity, and action to reduce or manage human utilisation of the park (9) (12) (13). It will also be important to effectively protect the species elsewhere within its range (1) (9) (10), to undertake continued monitoring (13), and to perform further research into its life history, populations and biology (4) (14). Sustainable trophy hunting has been suggested as a potential source of revenue for mountain nyala conservation (1) (10), but this may prove controversial. Saint Louis Zoo has been working in collaboration with local conservation organisations and communities to support mountain nyala conservation, with training, monitoring and environmental education programmes underway, and work being undertaken to restore degraded forest (14). The mountain nyala’s dramatic recovery in the 1980s demonstrated that conservation efforts can be effective for the species, giving hope that, with proper protection, this graceful antelope could stage a successful comeback  (10) (12).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To find out more about the mountain nyala, and about conservation in Ethiopia, see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Afro-alpine vegetation
High mountain shrub and grassland vegetation found in Africa.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Herb
A small, non-woody, seed bearing plant in which all the aerial parts die back at the end of each growing season.
Lichen
A composite organism made up of a fungus in a co-operative partnership with an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
Ungulate
A general term for a mammal with hooves. The term refers to a range of disparate groups, including the artiodactyls (‘even-toed ungulates’, such as pigs, deer, sheep, antelopes and cattle) and perissodactyls (‘odd-toed ungulates’, including horses, tapirs and rhinoceroses), and so is not usable from a taxonomic point of view.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  4. Evangelista, P., Swartzinski, P. and Waltermire, R. (2007) A profile of the mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni). African Indaba, 5(2): 1-47.
  5. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Ultimate Ungulate (November, 2009)
    http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Artiodactyla/Tragelaphus_buxtoni.html
  7. Estes, R.D. (1992) The Behavior Guide To African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
  8. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, London.
  9. East, R. (1988) Antelopes: Global Survey and Regional Action Plans: Part 1. East and Northeast Africa. IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1988-015-1.pdf
  10. East, R. (1999) African Antelope Database 1998. IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/SSC-OP-021.pdf
  11. Brown, L.H. (1969) Observations on the status, habitat and behaviour of the mountain nyala Tragelaphus buxtoni in Ethiopia. Mammalia, 33(4): 545-597.
  12. Refera, B. and Bekele, A. (2004) Population status and structure of mountain nyala in the Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. African Journal of Ecology, 42: 1-7.
  13. Stephens, P.A., d’Sa, C.A., Sillero-Zubiri, C. and Leader-Williams, N. (2001) Impact of livestock and settlement on the large mammalian wildlife of Bale Mountains National Park, southern Ethiopia. Biological Conservation, 100: 307-322.
  14. Saint Louis Zoo (November, 2009)
    http://www.stlzoo.org/
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Image credit

Male mountain nyalas  
Male mountain nyalas

© M. Watson / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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