Nile Lechwe, Kobus megaceros
The Nile lechwe (Kobus megaceros), a species of antelope, is also known as Mrs Gray’s lechwe, the waterbuck, or the wasserbock. It can be found in Ethiopia and Sudan, where it prefers a habitat within grasslands, steppes, wetlands, coastal areas, or swamplands with water reaching a depth between 3.9 and 16 inches. Leopold Fitzinger first described this antelope in 1855.
The Nile lechwe varies in size depending on sex, with males typically reaching a weight of up to 260 pounds and females averaging at up to 200 pounds. Males can reach an average height between 39 and 41 inches at the shoulders and have a body length of up to 65 inches while females reach a height between 31 and 33 inches at the shoulder and a body length of 53 inches. The horns of this species are slightly “S” shaped, and can reach a length between 20 and 24 inches.
The fur of the Nile lechwe differs between sex, as well as age. Young typically have a brown-gold coat, which remains the same in females but changes to chocolate brown in males at the age of two or three. Males will also show a white patch of fur on the shoulders, with smaller white patches around the eyes. The fur of this species is shaggy, and grows longer on the neck and cheeks.
The Nile lechwe is active during the early morning and evening hours, and communicates visually and vocally. Females are known to make a loud croaking noise while moving about. These antelope will form groups of up to 50 females containing one male, or all male groups known as bachelor groups. The groups can be divided into three smaller groups containing females and young, young males, and older males that hold a territory. Bachelor males are sometimes allowed into an older male’s territory to boost protection, but are not allowed to mate.
The Nile lechwe can mate throughout the year, but most often breeds between the months of February and May. Adult males will fight for dominance by clashing horns in the water, in a short and violent display. The victor wins the right to mate with chosen females. Young males “poke” the ground with their horns during the peak-mating season. Before this time arrives, males will bend their heads to the ground, urinate on their cheek and neck hair, and then rub the hair on a female’s rump and forehead in a strange scent marking effort.
Females have a pregnancy period that lasts up to nine months, which results in one calf that can weigh between 9.9 and 12.1 pounds. The calf will remain hidden in thick vegetation for up to three weeks, where it nurses, and is weaned at five to six months of age. A few months after this, the calf will become fully independent and will join a herd. Calves reach sexual maturity at two years of age.
The diet of the Nile lechwe consists of water plants and tender grasses. During the beginning of the flooding season, wild rice is thought to comprise a large portion of its diet, while swamp grasses comprise the majority of its post-flood season diet. Aquatic plants are often eaten throughout its range, because this species has the ability to wade through shallow waters and swim in deeper water. This species will occasionally feed on green vegetation from bushes and trees by standing its hind legs. Its common predators include leopards, lions, cape hunting dogs, and crocodiles. When threatened, it may run into the water, while mothers will protect their young by kicking.
It is thought that the Nile lechwe reduces grass fires by trampling grasses while grazing, which forms a natural firewall. It is hunted for food and by trophy hunters, but it is also threatened by habitat loss. Conservation efforts are being conducted, and in Sudan, this species occurs in protected areas including Fannyikang and Shambe and Zeraf, although in this area the Nile lechwe is thought to be endangered by oil exploitation. In Ethiopia, this antelope resides in Gambela National Park and is protected by a law that only allows six individuals to be captured per year, with a special license. In Sudan, hunters need to acquire a license to hunt it. The Nile lechwe appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”
Image Caption: Kobus megaceros – male (Prague Zoo). Credit: Bodlina/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)