A female greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) looks back at me while munching on the water-filled stem of a succulent. Kudus (and dik-diks— which I still haven’t posted about!) were my two favorite antelope at Mpala, and we were fortunate to have many interactive and close encounters with them on foot. Clayton and I followed this herd quietly as they foraged, and our steps were accompanied by these wary faces with adorably large ears.
We frequently observed another family group of greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) by the Ewaso Ng’iro river. Most often they were shy, running behind bushes to safety, only horns and ears visible. One afternoon I drove out in the rain and found the herd foraging in the open. In these conditions the kudus seemed much more at ease, and I was able to get just a few meters from a mother and her tiny calf. Soon afterwards this male came into view, sporting the most impressive horns of any kudu I have seen at Mpala. The cold lighting, and sounds and smells of the rain made a serene atmosphere, and its horns glistened from the water’s reflection. I really liked the rain texture in the above photo, but it’s only well visible when blown up to a large size.
Greater kudus are among the largest antelope species in Africa, dwarfed only by the eland and bongos. They prefer riparian habitats and are seemingly more dependent on water than other antelope. During the dry season, one family group hugged Mpala station because of its limited water sources, and my first day in Kenya I ran into an enormous male who was stunned by my presence. The rainy season eventually arrived, and kudu sightings within the station decreased as vegetation growth skyrocketed.
To establish dominance, males will arch their backs downward to present their horns. Males of a smaller size will submit to the larger male’s assets, but males of equal size may escalate into duels. In fights they rotate their heads to the left and right, seeking an opening between the opponent’s horns. These clock-like motions can result in the horns become interlocked, and the males will then push forward to their best ability to outdo one another. We were lucky to observe two young males in a brief scuffle, though their horns were short and the interaction was most likely practice for when they reach maturity.
For a couple of months I could reliably find a male kudu foraging solitarily behind my house at night, and it was amazing to sit in the dark and hear the huge animal’s horns clacking against the acacia branches. While watching the kudu I could spot many other animals moving around cryptically. For instance, the first elephant shrew I saw actually bounded directly under the kudu’s legs. Pictured below is not that male; it is the bull kudu from the harem I frequently saw along the same river stretch.