The stately, water-loving waterbuck is always found close to the source for which it is named.
The Waterbuck is grey-brown color antelope, with white stripes on their faces and a large, round nose at the end of their distinctively shaped head which it shares with its family member the Lechwe. They are very ruggedly and stocky built animals, but still manage to run at speeds of up to 50km/h. Their horns are slightly curved outward and then inward again forming a slight arch like shape. They are easiest to identify from the back, by the distinct white circle on their buttocks, and sexes are told apart by the lack of horns on females. Males reach weights of between 198kg and 262kg (436 and 576lb) while females fall just short at between 161kg and 214kg (354 and 471lb).
Both sub-species of Waterbuck are fairly widespread throughout Africa, one through the centre and on the western end of Africa, and the other in the south eastern parts. The defassa waterbuck sub-species covers most of the Congolese rain forests, starting as south as northern Namibia and Zambia, and then going to the brink of the Sahara through to the coast of eastern Africa. The common Waterbuck on the other hand ranges from the Limpopo river of South Africa, through Mozambique, northern parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe, and Tanzania to its northern distribution border in Kenya. Usually they frequent water sources often, hence their name.
These water dwellers are in no current conservational threat, although many expanding settlements and native over-hunting threaten local Waterbuck populations. Overall populations throughout their range are decreasing slightly, mainly due to the decline of populations in protected areas. Their total population is estimated at around 200 000 individual waterbucks across Sub-Saharan Africa, in areas with a steady supply of water where they may occur. 60% of this total makes up those found within protected areas, with an additional 13% found on land that is privately owned where they may be kept for commercial hunting or for game viewing purposes.
As previously mentioned, these animals visit water sources very frequently, but this isn’t for recreational purposes. They are some of the most water dependent antelope, even more than some domesticated animals, and are grazers. It is for this reason that they don’t wonder far away from rivers, dams or waterholes within the close vicinity of the grasslands where they feed, narrowing it down to specific types of areas within their range. In the Kruger National Park these areas are around man made waterholes, dams and rivers, stretching into the privately owned reserves beside the park such as the Sabi Sands and Timbavati.
Waterbucks form herds of a few closely related females together with their young, led by one dominant, adult male who form the head of the herd. Males are territorial to a certain extent, excluding adolescent males still making their way up the hierarchy of dominance. Territory sizes are very diverse and really depend on the habitat in question. In the Queen Elizabeth National Park more north in Africa population density was very low, compared to the higher populations around Lake Nakuru National Park which has an obvious steady supply of water. The average territory sizes range between 10 and 40 ha (0,1 – 0,4 square km).
Their social activities mainly have to do with attempting to obtain or defend territory or to providing for the health and well-being of their offspring. Males fight over territory and indirectly for mates, signaled by them touching noses and then locking horns for the actual battle. Males also straighten out their posture make themselves seem bigger when displaying dominance and defending their territory and herd. Mothers groom, lick and call out to their young frequently, and spend lots of their time in the company of their offspring while still dependent on their mothers. Furthermore they occupy themselves with feeding as a herd and resting as a herd.
The courtship of these animals involves them rubbing against one another, the classic foreleg-lifting and them spreading their scents through urination. Males generally spend up to half an hour courting a female before they mate, and may mate with many different females on the day that they are in heat. Females mate generally mate with 1 male and rarely 2. This process begins when both sexes are sexually mature, and the female is ovulating. Males reach sexual maturity around 6 years of age, while females achieve this in half the time, when around 3 years old. The gestation period of these creatures is between 8 and 8.5 months.
In the presence of a predator, the unease of these creatures is best seen by them fleeing the scene, and best heard by the snorting and other sounds they produce as an alarm to the rest. In some cases males may attempt to defend themselves and their young against smaller sized predators such as hyenas or leopards. It has been rumored that Waterbuck are less preferred prey due to the strong odor their fat gives off on their meat unless it is carefully and skilfully removed, but this has since been disproved simply by statistics of Waterbuck killings by large predators such as Lions in the Kruger National Park, in comparison with other choices of prey. The white circle on their buttocks is thought to help young follow their mothers in situations where they are in threat.
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Namibia's legendary Etosha National Park is one of the top safari destinations in Africa.
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Zimbabwe's top safari destination include Hwange and Mana Pools National Park.
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