Mike Unwin
United Kingdom UK
Feb 27, 2018 February 27, 2018

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

Categories: African Wildlife, Kenya, Mammals

At SafariBookings we love Africa! And not only for the big five. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Greater kudu. The spectacular spiral horns of this handsome antelope – the longest of any antelope – have long made it a favourite among safari-goers and trophy hunters alike.

Belonging to the Tragelaphus genus, alongside the likes of bushbuck and nyala, bulls may stand 1.5 metres at the shoulder and weigh over 250kg. Despite their large size, they are relatively lightly built, and famed for their leaping prowess – able to clear fences and other obstacles with ease.

Distribution and habitat

This species is most common in Southern Africa but smaller populations of three different subspecies occur in East Africa, the horn of Africa and southern Sahara. Its preferred habitat is lightly wooded savanna and rocky bush country, where it generally sticks to cover to avoid predators, which include lion, leopard, hyena and wild dog.

Greater Kudu in Linyanti Concession in Botswana Greater Kudu in Linyanti Concession in Botswana, Photo by Rolf Crisovan

Greater Kudu facts

  1. Kudu are highly alert and notoriously hard to approach. When they detect danger – often using their large, radar-like ears – they give a hoarse alarm bark, then flee with a distinctive, rocking-horse running motion, the male laying back his horns to avoid overhead obstructions.
  2. The common name kudu is derived from the indigenous Khoikhoi language of Southern Africa. The scientific name is derived from Greek: Tragos denotes a he-goat and elaphos a deer; Strephis means ‘twisting’ and Keras means ‘horn’.
  3. The horns of a mature bull kudu have two and a half twists, and, if straightened, would reach an average length of 120cm. However, they may occasionally have three full twists and the record length is a whopping 187.64cm. The horns do not begin to grow until the bull reaches 6–12 months, twisting once at around two-years-of-age and not reaching the full two-and-a-half twists until the age of six. They have long served different traditional communities, as both embellishment and musical instrument, the latter including the shofar, a Jewish ritual horn blown at Rosh Hashanah.

    Greater Kudu Greater Kudu, photo via Pixabay

  4. Male kudus are rarely physically aggressive but may spar during the courtship season, shoving one another with their horns. Occasionally, during these contests their horns become interlocked and, if unable to free themselves, both males may die.
  5. The traditional sport of Kudu dung-spitting (Bokdrol Spoeg in Afrikaans) is practiced in the South African Afrikaner community. The winner is the contestant who is able to spit one of the antelope’s small, hard dung pellets the furthest – with the distance measured to where it comes to rest. An annual world championship was launched in 1994, with contests held at community events, game festivals and tourism shows. The world record stands at 15.56m, set in 2006 by Shaun van Rensburg Addo.

 

Kudu scratching its back on Chief’s Island, Botswana. Kudu scratching its back on Chief’s Island, Botswana. Photo via Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen on Unsplash

 

Greater Kudu Conservation Status

With only 118,000 kudus remaining in the wild, kudus have a ‘near threatened conservation status’ according the African Wildlife Foundation. Hunters shoot them for their hides and/or meat and their horns are a much wanted collectors item. Local people use their horns in rituals, to store honey or to make instruments out of them. Habitat loss is another threat to the kudu population. Awareness and responsible travel is key to preserve the kudu population.

Come see the majestic Greater Kudu up close!

Greater kudu can be spotted in most southern African parks. Great places to see these magnificent antelopes are Kruger National Park in South Africa, Etosha National Park in Namibia and all main Zambian parks. Although much less common in East Africa, Ruaha NP and Selous GR in Tanzania are your best bet to encounter the East African subspecies. Find your perfect safari tour on SafariBookings.com!