There are two types of kudu in Africa, with the greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros mainly occurring in Southern and Eastern Africa where it developed later than the lesser kudu Tragelaphus imberbis of the northern and central parts of East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The greater kudu probably developed in East Africa before spreading southward and fossils that are 1,8 million years old are found in Tanzania and north-western Kenya.

The greater kudu was first described as Antelope strepsiceros in 1766 by Pallas based on a specimen that was said to have been from the Cape of Good Hope although historical records indicate that it never occurred west of Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo. The genus Antelope does not occur in Africa and De Blainville coined the name Tragelaphus in 1816 for the spiral-horned antelopes of Africa. Tragelaphus is derived from the Greek words tragos for a billy goat and elaphos for a deer, while the specific epithet strepsiceros is derived from stepho for ‘curled’ and keras for ‘horn’. The name ‘kudu’ has a Nama or Khoi-Khoi origin.

In 1947, the greater kudu was described by Stevenson-Hamilton as nature’s acme to attain perfection. An adult bull in the bushveld has a shoulder height of some 1,4 m and a mean body weight of 235 kg as opposed to 1,3 m and 155 kg in an adult cow. However, greater kudu in the Eastern Cape are smaller and weigh less. A bull attains its full weight after twelve years and a cow after five years.
The coat colour in Southern Africa is fawn-grey with 5 to 14 transverse white stripes unevenly spread across the back, but the coat of a cow often has a cinnamon tinge. The dark grey neck is long and the facial markings vary but there are usually one to four white patches below the eyes and on the side of the face of a bull. There is a V-shaped white band between the eyes and the upper lip is white. The bull has a short, dark mane from the throat to the chest and both genders have a greyish mane on the neck and white crest on the back. The white underside of the bushy tail is conspicuous during flight and the tail has a black tassel. The promi-nently rounded ears are pinkish-orange inside. Only the bull carries large, curled horns, the shape and length of which can be used to determine age. A cow sometimes has atavistic and irregularly-shaped, thin horns.

There are five subspecies of greater kudu, with Tragelaphus strepsiceros strepsiceros occurring from South Africa north to southern Kenya. Historically, the greater kudu was restricted to North-West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, northern KwaZulu-Natal, northern Free State and parts of the Northern Cape, with an isolated population in the Western and Eastern Cape.

The preferred habitat in Southern Africa is bushveld with rocky terrain close to water. Although it at times enters the semi-arid southern Kalahari, the greater kudu avoids true deserts, forests and open grasslands and it only occurs intermittently in semi-arid bushveld where water is available.

The usual diet of the greater kudu consists of 15 per cent green grass sprouts and 85 per cent leaves of woody plants, but the grass complement varies regionally. Herbs, wild flowers and fruits are also eaten. Tannin in woody plant leaves inhibit digestion and cause a reduced intake of protein during the dry season. This may cause mortalities towards the later part of the dry season. Deficiencies in calcium and phosphorus may cause greater kudu to eat soil and old bones. The greater kudu is dependent on water and usually drinks up to 9 litres of water per day from midday to dusk, at times moving into a waterhole to get access to clean, cool water.

Main activity is during the day but greater kudu will also forage at night and rest at midday when it is warm. A breeding herd consists of up to 20 adult cows and subadults. Nursery herds are not formed but bachelor herds form at times after mating. The ranges overlap in both genders and can be as large as 600 ha in the bushveld, but smaller in the Western and Eastern Cape. Bulls and cows become sexually mature when 18 months old but bulls only breed when they become socially dominant at 5 years of age. In the Kruger National Park, poor physical condition in the dry season prevents bulls from mating at times when they are eight years or older. Mating occurs towards the end of the wet season when up to 95 per cent of the adult cows can become pregnant. Gestation lasts 250 to 270 days, a single calf weighing 16 kg is born and twins are unknown. The calf remains hidden for the first two weeks of life and weans when it is 135 to 165 days old. Young females often remain with the maternal group but young males leave it at about two years of age. Life expectancy in the wild is approximately 14 years and the population growth rate varies from 13 to 38 per cent, depending on habitat quality. The greater kudu is susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease, anthrax and rabies.

A greater kudu can be produced intensively, semi-intensively and extensively. It scales fences as tall as 3 m and crawls underneath fences, necessitating two electrified strands 250 to 300 mm and 1,2 m above the ground and 225 mm away from a wire wildlife fence.
The daily intake of dry plant matter of the greater kudu in the Lowveld varies from 3,7 kg in winter to 5,4 kg in summer. August is often when the greater kudu is mostly exposed to a shortage of browse. The gross protein intake of the greater kudu usually remains well above the maintenance level throughout the year, but the estimated intake of metabolisable energy drops below maintenance level late in the dry season when sudden temperature changes and rain from cold fronts can cause stress, pneumonia and death.
The greater kudu does well in combination with domesticated livestock. The higher profitability of such a mixed ranching enterprise is due to the value of greater kudu trophies and meat. Livestock and greater kudu provide better long-term ranching security than domesticated livestock alone, especially during protracted droughts. In the Albany thicket regions of the Eastern Cape, the greater kudu especially eats the spekboom Portulacaria afra, which the bushbuck also utilises. The Angora goat utilises a wide spectrum of food plants, including the spekboom, but displays the least dietary overlap with the greater kudu. A combination of greater kudu and Angora goats, but excluding bushbuck, can therefore be used to utilise the veld more efficiently, but not at the full stocking rate, and definitely not at the full browsing capacity.

Capture and transportation
The greater kudu can be captured in active and passive capture bomas. Chemical capture under veterinary supervision is possible with M99 in combination with azaperone or with A3080 in combination with detomidine. Tranquillise and transport seven to eight cows and calves in a mass crate with 0,9 m2 floor space per kudu, young bulls in separate compartments in mass crates and adult bulls in single crates of 2,3 m long x 0,8 m wide x 1,85 m high. When a cow is to be transported in a single crate it must be 1,8 m long x 0,6 m wide x 1,8 m high. Short-term tranquillisation can be done with haloperidol and long-term tranquillisation with perphenazine enanthate

Temporary captivity
A single greater kudu requires a minimum pen of 4 x 3 m, and no more than four animals should be kept in a pen of 5 x 10 m. For ten or more greater kudu, a camp of at least 200 m2 is required with fences of at least 3 m high. A greater kudu bull can break a fence with brute strength. It should therefore be sturdy and electrification may be required. Four cows and subadults can be kept together but young and adult bulls should be kept in separate camps. Branches with leaves can be hung from roofs or on fences for food and cover. An adult greater kudu can be fed with antelope pellets, dry lucerne and a vitamin and mineral supplement. Fresh, chopped vegetables can be fed three times per week.

Stocking density
The mean weight of 180 kg of a greater kudu is the standard conversion unit for a Browser Unit, but based on its diet, an adult kudu is equivalent to 0.15 Grazer Units and 0.85 Browser Units.

A good trophy animal has horns that show the start of a third curl. Recent good trophies include:
• Rowland Ward:
Minimum length: 53,875 inches (136,84 cm); best: 73,875 inches (187,64 cm) and picked up at the Save River in Mozambique.
• Safari Club International:
Minimum: 121 points; best: 158.750 points.
• South African Method:
Minimum: 53,000 inches (134,62 cm);
best: 67,688 inches (171,93 cm). ASM

Photos: Annette Oelofse

Selected sources
Bothma, J du P & JG du Toit (Eds). 2016. Game ranch management, sixth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik.
Cloete, F. 2016. Lewendewild-handel: ’n jaar van hoogte- sowel as laagtepunte. GAME & HUNT 22(2): 92–95.
Fürstenburg, D. 2005. The greater kudu. In J du P Bothma & N van Rooyen (Eds),
Intensive wildlife production in southern Africa. Pretoria: Van Schaik, pp 147–168.
Skinner, JD & CT Chimimba (Eds). 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 626–629.