Meet the Elusive Kudu
By Awake! correspondent in Kenya
‘THE elusive what?’ you ask. The elusive kudu! A beautiful antelope that lives in East Africa’s national parks and wildlife reserves. And elusive is the best word to describe this extremely shy animal. Let’s go to Tsavo National Park in Kenya and see if we can catch a glimpse of one.
It is midmorning when we enter the western section of the park. Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, greets our eyes. Its majestic snowcapped peak is one of the many sights we enjoy as we drive through this lovely sanctuary. No, we will not see any kudu now. They feed and move about only in the very early morning, in the late afternoon, or at night. During the heat of the day, they rest in bushy thickets. So to see them, we will have to be in a suitable location soon after sunrise or some hours before sunset.
With the approach of dusk, we pitch our tent at a campsite on the top of a small sandy cliff overlooking the Tsavo River. We rise at dawn, and after a simple breakfast, we set off, driving slowly down a trail. Look there! Why, it’s a male kudu, standing motionless.
Oh, how beautifully the early morning light illuminates him! He is a handsome ram of rich gray color. His body is banded with 13 or 14 narrow white vertical stripes. A conspicuous white patch adorns his throat, and a white bar his lower neck. The white chevron between his velvety eyes and the white area around his mouth give character to his dark face. A cool morning breeze gently ripples the short white mane running down his neck, shoulders, and back. His head is crowned with two triple-twisted horns that gracefully spiral upward and outward.
The kudu we are looking at is one of the two varieties that is found in Africa. He is known as the lesser kudu. His ‘big cousin,’ the greater kudu, frequents northern Kenya and is rarely seen in Tsavo. Aside from being bigger, the greater kudu can be distinguished by the heavy brown and white beard that extends to his chest in an impressive neck fringe. His horns are more massive, and his ears are proportionately larger. He never has more than eight white body stripes.
Infancy and Territoriality
When a baby kudu is born, its mother will immediately lick it clean so that it will have no scent by which predators may track it. Then, when the mother goes off to feed, the infant antelope will obediently stay put, lying quietly where its mother has placed it. The mother will regularly give her baby a “licking” bath to keep it deodorized and thus protected from predators. But on about the tenth day, when her baby begins nibbling plants, it develops body odor. Since its specialized protection from detection is then lost, from that time on, it accompanies its mother everywhere.
A conspicuous kudu characteristic is that of establishing territory boundaries. This is the choosing and defending of a particular patch of ground by the males of the species. In claiming an area, the male marks the boundary by depositing its body excretions on grass and bushes. Then he defends his area by chasing out any male intruder that crosses these scented territorial boundaries. What about female intruders? Why, they are not intruders! They are guests who are welcome to stay. In fact, they may be pressured into doing so!
Evidence of Intelligent Design
The instinctive behavior of marking off territorial boundaries keeps herds well dispersed and protects against overgrazing. Thus, browsing kudu are assured of an uninterrupted supply of the leafy bushes they relish. But what happens when a drought occurs?
Conservationist Daphne Sheldrick explains in the East African Wildlife Society’s magazine Swara: “When times are hard, however, and food and water scarce, Nature introduces a radical measure which is the exact opposite of territoriality . . . , and that is Migration. Territoriality inclines toward separation and a readiness to fight and mate; migration inhibits both these basic instincts as the need for closer cohesion increases. Survival becomes the paramount concern of all, and so males and females come together . . . in peaceful mixed association. And then, one day, as though by Divine Command, they will vacate an area en masse and a general exodus takes place.” Yes, off they go, seeking new feeding grounds where foliage is abundant!
Could an unintelligent, undirected force called Nature devise and develop such opposite patterns of conduct? Surely, only an intelligent Master Designer could have programmed this complex instinctive behavior into the kudu.
Now, aren’t you glad that your curiosity about the kudu moved you to come with us? As we watch him over there, busily browsing on the bushes, he does not seem elusive at all! But he has spotted us! Suddenly, his nostrils and large ears twitch. With a coughing bark, he jumps into the bushes and dashes away. Just as we release our pent-up breath, we are surprised again! Out of nowhere, a fawn-gray female leaps after him. All the while, she had been standing in a nearby thicket! Her coloring and immobility camouflaged her completely.
This is how the peaceful kudu survives in the wilds of Africa. Its protection is the instinctive ability to stand motionless and blend in with its surroundings. No wonder the kudu is so elusive! Its life depends on it.