Visit any of the game reserves in southern Africa and you are sure to see loads of buck of every description, especially impala and springbok. Whilst it’s great to see the common buck, it’s always a thrill to come across the more unusual ones, like the Waterbuck, which is very distinctive with its long shaggy coat and a target-like white circle arounds its tail.
We saw some in the Kruger National Park, but they are popping up in various odd locations as they’re being sold to private nature reserves and game farms.
Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) are large antelope that prefer to move around in small herds of between 5 and12 animals. Males and females tend to stay in separate herds, with the females guarding their calves and young ones. Males are very territorial and often have lethal fights for dominance in the herd. The sexes are easy to distinguish as the females are much smaller and don’t have horns.
Their habitat is in dry floodplains and areas close to water, although Waterbuck, as their name might imply, are not aquatic animals like the lechwe or sitatunga. They do, however, take to water when in danger, even if crocodiles are present. Waterbuck have a number of predators (spotted hyena, wild dogs, lions and cheetahs), but they have a rather unpleasant smelling secretion from their skin (to waterproof their fur), which sometimes deters their attackers.
Calves are born throughout the year, usually singly, and take about three and a half years to reach maturity. The mother licks the baby after it suckles to remove its characteristic odour and confuse predators. But in spite of this, they have a high mortality rate. Numbers are kept up by females mating within six weeks of giving birth, and calves are born after a gestation period of about nine months.
Waterbuck eat grass, fruit and leaves and drink a lot of water. If they can escape being part of the food chain, they can live up to fourteen years.