The Sitatunga Antelope
The Sitatunga Antelope: or Marsh buck (Tragelaphus spekii) is a rare swamp-dwelling antelope that can be found in many countries of Africa but rarely seen due to its elusive behavior. The sitatunga is confirmed to marshy and swampy habitats and they occur in tall and dense vegetation as well as seasonal swamps, marshy clearings in the forests, riparian thickets and mangrove swamps. They spend the hottest parts of the day resting in the shade of reeds on platforms of dried plants, which they build themselves by circling and trampling on vegetation.
Sitatungas have slightly hunched appearance, with hind legs growing longer than the forequarters. Adult males have impressive, spiraled horns that are ivory tipped when fully developed. According to color, males are traditionally chocolate or grey-brown while females are brown to bright chestnut. Adults have a longer coat and white markings on the body, face, legs, ears and feet while juveniles will have a woollier coat with white spots as well as stripes on a bright reddish-brown coat. The sitatungas are also distinguished by their long, splayed hooves which make them clumsy and vulnerable on firm terrain but well-adapted for walking through muddy and vegetated swamplands. Males are considerably larger than females and have long, twisting horns and their splayed feet make them accomplished swimmers. Both sexes have a white band between the eyes, and white spots on the cheeks. They also have two distinct white patches on the body, one above the chest and one on the throat, below the chin and the tail is black tipped, brown above and white below.
Sitatungas are most active at dawn and dusk but can be active during both day and night. They feed on bulrushes, sedges and leaves of bushes, sometimes venturing out of the swamp to graze on grasses in riverine forests. They are known to be Africa’s only true amphibious antelopes with many adaptations to their aquatic habitat such as waterproofing oil on their coat and elongated, splayed hooves for walking on soft soil. Sitatungas are also known to be strong but slow swimmers capable of paddling several miles; usually half-submerged, they can dive deeper if in danger staying hidden with only part of the head out of the water. Although they are said to be solitary animals, pairs associate for short periods for mating and small temporary mixed groups are occasionally formed. The young are born on a dry, trampled mat in the swamp and lie out for a month with only short visits from their mother for suckling. The ties between mother and young ones do not last for long and half-grown sitatungas are often on their own and are seen foraging alone. They usually graze on their own though they may also group in male or female pairs, bachelor groups of 3 or 4, or family groups of 5 to 15 members which will comprise of one bull, multiple ewes and juveniles.
Sitatungas grow to 57 inches (115 centimeters) in length for females and 63 inches (160 centimeters) for males. Adult individuals can weigh between 110 and 775 pounds approximately 50 to 125 kilograms.
Sitatungas can breed throughout the year although a weak breeding peak is noticeable. They have a gestation period of 220 days and calves lie up on trampled reed platforms or even in dense undergrowth for several weeks. A home range for these sitatungas is generally very small and this is due to the prolific and permanent food supply available.
They have small home ranges due to the abundance of food within their swamp habitat. Sitatungas form paths through reeds, papyrus, phragmites and Typha, and will create platforms of vegetation by repeatedly circling and trampling reeds and grass. They are excellent swimmers, able to move slowly through water for several miles, and will dive deep enough to submerge their entire body when escaping or even hiding from predators with only their nose exposed at the surface.
Sitatungas graze on young papyrus and reed shoots for the bulk of their diet as they spend the majority of their time in water. They forage both in the swamp and land. They also feed on buds, seeds, flowers, tall grasses and other foliage for nourishment as well as occasionally feeding on elephant dung in order to receive nutrition from undigested seeds. Sitatungas may stand on their hind legs to reach higher vegetation, more so male have been known for using their horns to break off branches for food. They have also been spotted grazing on crops at night.
They breed throughout the year, with females producing a single calf after a gestation period of 7 months. The calf will weigh approximately 4 kilograms (8 to 9) pounds at birth, and potentially double in weight during the first month. After the calf is born, the female hides it on a vegetation platform secluded in dry reeds, and in deep water for protection. These calves always stay with their mothers for a number of months in order to learn how to navigate the swamp safely. Sexual maturity is at 1 year for females and approximately 2 years for male.
Facts about sitatungas
- Banana like shaped hooves
Sitatungas have bizarrely shaped hooves that some people say look like bananas and heir hooves are split into two sections that splay out from each other. This lets sitatunga walk through muddy regions without sinking in and they barely make any noise while walking in water.
- Mostly live-in swamps
This makes them so unique because they live in swampy, marshy areas with thick grass, reed beds and mangrove trees. They make trails through swamps that normally lead to clusters of reeds where they can sleep. Sitatungas generally live in the swamps of south eastern Africa, in Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Angola, Ghana and Kenya. You can also find them on and around the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria.
- Distinctive markings on the coats
Sitatungas are reddish or greyish brown color with short, coarse fur. They have patterns of vertical white stripes and spots along their body, and their legs, throat, cheeks and forehead also have white patches. A male sitatunga has also got a white stripe that goes down the middle of their back.
- Same family as cows
Sitatungas are technically part of the Bovidae family. They are in the Tragelaphus genus, and their technical scientific name is Tragelaphus spekii. These sitatungas get their name from John Hannington Speke, the English explorer who described them in 1863. Unlike cows, sitatungas have never been domesticated.
- Unusual leg length
These animals look like they are always hunched over because their rear legs are actually much longer than their front legs. This strange placement helps them to balance better in marshy areas. Their pasterns, which are part of the leg above the hoof, are actually flexibly. This unusual leg construction makes it easy for a sitatunga to run on damp surfaces.
- Great swimmers
Sitatungas are one of the best swimmers among antelope species. They mostly entirely submerge themselves, so all you can see is the sitatunga nose and eyes poking out of the water. They typically swim to cool off, escape flies, or even travel to other regions of the marsh. However, they have to be careful to avoid areas of open water that might contain crocodiles.
Where to find them
Sitatunga reside in swamps, savannas, forests and in Uganda you can spot them in Katonga Wildlife Reserve, Bigodi wetland sanctuary, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Ssese Island among others.