While visiting the Mopani area of the Kruger National Park this past weekend, we (myself and three very good friends) came across these waterbuck bulls involved in a massive fight about a patch of the Nshawu Vlei (marsh) and the eligible cows that inhabit it. As is the case with several antelope species in the Park, their rutting season will be coming to an end soon and these bulls are quite desperate to sire their share of the calves that will be born towards the end of the year.
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The race occurring in South Africa, the Common Waterbuck (K.e.ellipsiprymnus) is characterised by a white circle around their tails, distinguishing them from the Defassa Waterbuck (K.e.defassa) which has a solid white patch on their posteriors. These shaggy antelope weigh up to 270kg and adult bulls are up to 1.7m high at the shoulder. The gracefully curved horns of the bulls can reach a meter in length.
As their name suggests, the waterbuck is seldom found far from a permanent water source, requiring to drink around 9 liters of water daily. Waterbuck inhabit open savannah, grasslands, floodplains, marshes and reedbeds, where they feed predominantly on long grass. They occur in mixed herds with up to sixty members, though normally much smaller. Most calves are born in the rainy season, and remain hidden for up to four weeks before joining their maternal herds. When pursued by predators, waterbuck will often take refuge in deep water, being good swimmers. They’re a favourite prey of lions, though calves fall victim to all of Africa’s large predators, and have a life expectancy up to 18 years.
The waterbuck is one of South Africa’s most common and well-known antelope, occurring naturally in most of the Northern and Eastern provinces and introduced widely outside its natural range on private land. The biggest population occurs in the Kruger National Park, with sizeable herds also at Ithala Game Reserve, Pilanesberg National Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, among the many private and public protected areas in which they can be found. It is also widespread in the rest of Africa, with the IUCN estimating a total population of around 200,000 for the continent.