Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii)

Also known as: Marshbuck
French: Guib D'Eau, Guib Harnachée
GenusTragelaphus (1)
SizeBody length: 115 - 170 cm (2)
Tail length: 30 - 35 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 75 - 125 cm (2)
Weight40 - 120 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

This medium sized antelope is highly specialised for a semi-aquatic lifestyle, spending the greater part of its life in papyrus swamps of Africa (3). The most obvious physical adaptation to their marshy environment is their long, splayed hooves, which enable the animal to stand and walk on mud and floating islands of vegetation without sinking (3) (4). This unusual animal has a slim face, slender neck and legs, and hindquarters that are higher than the forequarters, giving the sitatunga its peculiar hunched appearance (4). The shaggy, water-resistant coat varies in colour among populations (2), but is generally greyish-brown in males and rufous-brown in females and juveniles (4). Both sexes have distinctive white markings on the cheeks, thighs, throat, and between the eyes, in addition to a pattern of white spots and about six to eight vertical white stripes on the body (4). Males are considerably larger than females (4), and only males have long, spiralled horns, which reach up to 45 to 90 centimetres in length (2). As they mature, males also develop a scraggy mane and a white stripe running down the centre of their back (2).

Central and Western Africa (2).

The sitatunga lives in thickly vegetated, muddy swamps and marshes (4), normally among boggy papyrus beds (2). The animal is a good swimmer, but prefers to rest on dry mounds or floating islands in the swamp, trampling the grass into a springy mat (4). They will, however, flee into deep water when threatened, and individuals have been observed almost completely submerged underwater, with only their nostrils above the waterline (2).

Sitatungas may be active during both day and night, but are most active at dawn and dusk (2). A swamp provides a year-round supply of rich food, and sitatungas therefore require only very small home ranges, often using regular, tunnelled pathways through tall reeds and papyrus (4). However, individuals will also sometimes leave the swamp at night, when they are more hidden from predators, to graze at the edge of nearby forests (4). The diet consists of bullrushes, sedges and the leaves of bushes in the swamps, as well as grass in adjacent riverine forests, although fallen fruit and the bark of some trees and bushes are also eaten (4).

Sitatungas are usually seen ranging alone or in small, all-female groups (2), although pairs associate for short periods of time for mating and, occasionally, small, temporary mixed groups are formed (4). Breeding occurs throughout the year, with single offspring being usual, after a gestation period of 240 to 250 days (5). Young are born on a dry, trampled mat in the swamp, where they lie in concealment for as long as a month, with only short suckling visits from their mother (2) (4). Nursing lasts from four to six months, but the ties between mother and young do not last long after that, with sub-adults often seen on their own (4). Sexual maturity is reached at one to two years for females, two to two and a half for males, and the life span is up to 19 years (2).

The chief threat to the sitatunga comes from people who hunt it. Snares are set along the sitatunga’s well-travelled paths in the swamps, or dogs are used to drive the animal into open water, where it can be speared from boats, or on to land, where it is easily captured (4). In many parts of Africa, sitatungas provide a major source of protein as bushmeat, but the animal is also a victim of trophy hunting (3). There is a degree of safety within protected areas, but outside these areas over-hunting is causing a rapid decline in their numbers (4). People are also destroying the sitatunga’s aquatic habitat by draining swamps, reducing its distribution and abundance in many parts of its former range (4). Although still relatively widespread, this antelope is now locally threatened in certain areas (3), and has even become recently extinct in Niger, Guinea, and possible in Ghana and Togo too (1).

Sitatungas are found in a number of National Parks and Reserves, including Saiwa Swamp National Park in western Kenya, Moyowosi and Selous Game Reserves in Tanzania, Kafue National Park in Zambia, and Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana (4) (6). A Regional Studbook exists to manage captive populations in North America, but this species nevertheless remains rare in captivity (3). The Baltimore Zoo has been recognised for its ‘significant efforts in conservation’, for having maintained sitatunga for over 33 years, during which a total of 98 captive-bred calves have been born (7). Although captive individuals provide potential for future reintroductions into the wild, a more pressing need for the survival of this species is the enforced prohibition of hunting and the protection of its aquatic habitat, to which it has become so unusually and uniquely adapted.

For more information on the sitatunga see:

Authenticated (11/03/2006) by Dr. David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2013)