The nyala is a beautiful medium-sized antelope with spiral horns and a shaggy coat.
Nyalas are some of the most beautiful horned creatures found in Southern Africa. Males have a dark brown coat with vertical white stripes down their sides, a white ridge of hair on their back with their legs from their knees down a spectacular red-brown color. Males have slightly curled horns and big, white lined ears on the sides of its head. Females on the other hand have a fully light red-brown coat of fur, also with vertical stripes down the sides of its body and the same big ears on its head with only the curled horns missing. The size of males range between 100kg and 125 kg (220 and 276 lb) with females slightly smaller, roughly 55kg and 68 kg (121 and 150 lb) in weight. Horns on males aren’t as big as those of Kudus, usually measuring up to 85cm.
Nyalas, also known as lowland Nyalas as oppose to the Mountain Nyalas found in north eastern Africa, can be found in the south eastern parts of Africa mostly, within Northern South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Swaziland with populations introduced to Namibia and Botswana recently. They are a frequent habitant on commercial game farms and other forms of private land throughout Southern Africa. The southernmost part of the Kruger National park which forms part of the Lowlands of South Africa are where these iconic hooved mammals can mostly be found, doing justice to its name.
Nyalas have had a past full of misery for the species, severely cut down by humans, but now have a more established place in ecosystems within Southern Africa and thus also a more positive conservation status being labeled as of least concern by most. Their population fall mostly in protected areas such as the Kruger National park and the Umfolozi National Park in KwaZulu-Natal, an estimated 80%, while another 15% or so inhabits private owned land. These animals have found their feet quite well in areas which they historically inhabited as well as those where they have been introduced, greatly thanks to conservation. Their current population is considered stable and consists of around 32 000 individuals.
Nyalas are found within habitats where their usual diet of leaves and fruits of woody plants, like trees, or fine grass for grazing is consistently available along with a regular supply of water if the plants the eat from don’t offer enough water already. These areas include dense forests, woodlands with scattered trees or grassland areas teaming with all sorts of life. The Kruger National Park houses many habitats where these Lowland Nyalas feel comfortable, the southern Lowveld areas full of dense vegetation and the grasslands around the formidable Satara rest camp.
Nyalas have been found grouping themselves into herds of all females and calves, all males or a mixture of both. Usually groups of all females and their young, or maternal groups, are made up of a set of closely related females, led by a dominant female. Although male Nyalas sometimes form bachelor herds, they usually remain solitary. Mixed herds usually consist of up to 10 members, all browsing and drinking water together throughout a normal day. These antelope aren’t territorial and do not have dominance disputes with the exception of breeding season. They live for up to 19 years in the wild.
Nyalas are mainly active during the early hours of the day and later when the sun’s reach over Africa fades a bit, around late afternoon early evening, mainly to get away from the blistering heat during midday. They are frequently seen around water holes or dams, drinking to bliss their thirst or alternatively eating high quality foods such as fruits or pods in areas where water is scarce. The rest of the day they may be seen resting under trees or grooming themselves, keeping up their gorgeous image.
As soon as Nyalas reach sexual maturity at around 1 year old for females and 18 months of age for males, they begin to produce the next generation year-round although mostly before winter or during spring. Their mating ritual starts when a bull goes amongst members of a female herd and displays the white crest of hair found on his back. Once he finds a suitable mate, they breed for 6 hours in every ovulation cycle of a Nyala, if she is impregnated that would mean only 1 cycle then. For about 7 months or so thereafter the female Nyala will carry their calf, and hide the, still vulnerable, youngling in tall grass or thickets to protect it from predators.
Nyalas have many predator enemies lurking in tall grass or within a tree, waiting for the perfect moment to go after them. Lions, Leopards, spotted Hyenas, hunting dogs and crocodiles are the most notorious suspects and make the list of natural predators for just about any species of antelope. Young Nyalas have a few extra enemies on top of that, namely python, some eagles and a few jackal species. Nyalas are however a bit sharper than the average antelope and produce high pitched, barking sounds when a predator is spotted and also responds to the distress calls of other animals such as baboons around them.
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