Physical Characteristics Edit
Kudus, both the greater kudu and its close cousin the lesser kudu, have stripes and spots on the body, and most have a chevron of white hair on the forehead between the eyes. Greater and lesser kudu males have long, spiral horns; occasionally a female will have small ones. The greater kudu's horns are spectacular and can grow as long as 72 inches, making 2 1/2 graceful twists. These beautifully shaped horns have long been prized in Africa for use as musical instruments, honey containers and symbolic ritual objects. In some cultures the horns are thought to be the dwelling places of powerful spirits, and in others they are a symbol for male potency. The horns are seldom used in defense against predators; nor are they an impediment in wooded habitats-the kudu tilts the chin up and lays the horns against the back, moving easily through dense bush.
Female greater kudus are noticeably smaller than the males. By contrast, lesser kudus are even smaller, about 42 inches at the shoulder; males weigh around 220 pounds while females generally weigh about 50 pounds less. Lesser kudus have smaller horns than the greater kudus and conspicuous white patches on the upper and lower parts of the neck. Although both species are bluish-gray, grayish-brown or rust color, the lesser has five to six more lateral white stripes, for a total of 11 to 15. Both species have a crest of long hair along the spine, and greater kudus also have a fringe under the chin.
Lesser kudus are found in acacia and commiphora thornbush in arid savannas; they rely on thickets for security and are rarely found in open or scattered bush. Greater kudus are found in woodlands and bushlands.
The hierarchy among kudu males is usually determined by age and size. Males of about the same size and age engage in sparring contests in which they approach one another slowly, lock horns and push back and forth until one gives up. Usually no serious injuries result, but remains of animals have been found where the two combatants had locked horns in such a way that they could not disengage. Dominance is usually quickly and peacefully determined by a lateral display in which one male stands sideways in front of the other and makes himself look as large as possible. If the other is suitably impressed, dominance is established. Sometimes males form small bachelor groups, but more commonly they are solitary and widely dispersed.
Caring for Young Females and their offspring form small groups of six to 10. The males usually only join them during mating season. The pregnant female departs from her group to give birth, leaving the newborn lying out for 4 or 5 weeks, one of the longest periods of all the antelopes. The calf then begins to accompany its mother for short periods of time and by 3 or 4 months is with her constantly. Soon after, the mother and calf rejoin the female's group. Calves grow rapidly and at 6 months are fairly independent of their mothers.
Kudus live in the drier areas of eastern and southern Africa, wherever there is adequate low- and medium-level woody growth to provide food and shelter. They are browsers and eat leaves and shoots from a variety of plants. In dry seasons, they eat wild watermelons and other fruit for the liquid they provide. The lesser kudu is less dependent on water sources than the greater kudu. Where farming has developed near their habitat, kudus will sometimes make nocturnal visits to plantations and vegetable plots. As they can make spectacular leaps of up to 6 feet, it takes a high fence to keep them out.
Lions, leopards, hunting dogs and spotted hyenas hunt kudus, and cheetahs, smaller cats, eagles and pythons prey on the young. Their numbers are also affected by humans hunting them for their meat, hides and horns, or using their habitats for charcoal burning and farming. Kudus are highly susceptible to the rinderpest virus, and many scientists think recurring epidemics of the disease have reduced kudu populations in East Africa.