The kudu is one of the most spectacular must-see animals for African wildlife lovers. It has been described as one of the most handsome of the antelope family, due to the male’s unique large, corkscrew horns.
The name found its way into the English language courtesy of the Afrikaans of South Africa. The Afrikaans term ‘koedoe’ is a combination of both of zebra and deer.
There are two species of kudu from the family bovidae; the lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis) and the greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). Unlike the lesser kudu the greater kudu has three subspecies; T.s.strepsiceros, T.s.chora, and T.s.cottoni, which we explore in more detail below.
Kudus are a species of African antelopes majestic in their looks, with their twisted horns making them quite distinct from other antelopes. Horns are the main trademark of the kudu. While female kudus have short horns, male kudus have horns of up to 1.8 meters, the longest of any antelope, which take an average of six years to reach their full length.
Of the two kudu species, the greater kudu has a larger body size. With a height range of between 1.3 and 1.5 meters, the greater kudu males stand as the tallest antelope after the eland. On weight, males tips the scales at a minimum of 257 kgs and 315 kgs. The females are smaller and shorter, with an average height and weight of 1.2 meters and 170 kgs respectively.
Skin coloration ranges from reddish-brown to blue-gray, interspersed with white markings. Other markings include the distinct 6-10 vertical white stripes on the rib side, nose chevrons, and white forelegs for the greater kudus.
Lesser kudus are lighter in weight and have a shorter stature, at 92-108kgs and 100cms respectively. While the females will spot a bright rufous coat the males have a darker slate gray skin. Unlike greater kudu, they have shorter horns more white stripes (11-15) on its rib side and black and white leg colorations.
Range & habitat
Greater kudus are found in Eastern and Southern Africa. They are widely distributed in Southern Africa, especially in the bushveld lowlands. Other regions include East African regions of Kenya such as in the Tsavo National Park, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, and the horn Africa region of Ethiopia and Somalia.
Outside of Africa’s national parks, kudus have receded to mountainous woodlands due to human activities in their preferred lowlands. However, it is not rare to find them in close proximity to human settlement areas, due to their stealth and nocturnal adaptations.
They live in herds of approximately 25 antelopes but it is also possible to find herds of two to three females with their calves. While their natural habitat has faced threat from human activities the world conservation body the IUCN highlights the greater kudu as “least concern” with their population considered stable. The lesser kudu is highlighted as “near threatened” with their populations in decline. (See more on Africa’s endangered animals.)
Kudus are primarily browsers, preferring leaves and shoots from trees and shrubs, and flowers and fallen fruits. Although their stomach structure is made for browsing, during the wet season they occasionally supplement this diet by grazing the lush grasses.
Greater kudus are well adapted to surviving during the dry season by feeding on wild watermelons for water. Unlike the greater kudu, the lesser kudu does not depend so much on the water for their survival and get can get most of their water requirements from the parts of succulent wild fruits, only taking water if available.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Kudus don’t roam over long distances but rather live in home ranges of up to 6 km sq. They are active primarily from dusk until dawn, tending to rest during the daylight hours in woodlands where their camouflage helps them to avoid predators.
Sexual segregation is prevalent with males and females only meeting during the mating season, which usually coincides with rainy season. Some form of courting behavior precedes mating, after which the pregnant female undergoes a seclusion period before they give birth.
Newborn kudus are hidden to avoid predation for their first five weeks, during which the mother frequently returns to nurse the calf. After this period the calf will follow the mother, and from six months is old enough to fend for itself.
By the age of 1,5 years, most male calves start showing signs of gender. At his point, they leave their mother and form small bachelor groups of up to ten males.
Fun facts about kudus
- While the kudus are not aggressive sparring between males is not uncommon. Occasionally, this may lead to their twisted horns locking, and if they are unable to disentangle the result in death for both animals.
- Either kudu or impala dung is used in the traditional game of dung spitting in South Africa (the contestant spitting dung farthest is the winner!).
- The horns of the kudu twist once every two years, usually twisting just twice before they stop growing. Occasionally, the horns undergo three twists, which would reach around 1.8 meters if stretched out.
- Kudu horns have been used as musical instruments for years by traditional communities, including as the Shofar – a Jewish ritual horn.
Meet the kudu
Did you enjoy learning more about the kudu? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your kudu experience in the comment section below. Because those who care share!