Waterbucks are large African antelope that live south of the Sahara Desert. They are cloven-hoofed ruminant mammals in the same family as domestic cattle (Bovidae).
Exclusive to Africa, there are 13 subspecies grouped into two races, common and defassa. Where the two races overlap there are hybrids.
A grazing mammal that also requires drinking water every day or two, waterbuck are found near water in savannah and grasslands. Some grazing antelope, like sable, can eat grass and leaves for long periods of time without water; this makes their needs less particular. Waterbuck are not this way, they are reliant on grass as well as water.
Waterbuck lack speed and endurance. They depend on tall grass and woody vegetation for refuge from predators. In the dangerous wilds of Africa, lion, leopard, hyena, and wild dogs prey on waterbuck.
Like many antelope, Kobus ellipsiprymnus are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning the male looks different than the female. Males are taller and heavier than females, and have ridged horns with a sweeping backward arc. The males weigh 500+ pounds each (226 kg), and females slightly less. For more info, click here.
Both genders have shaggy coarse hair, reddish-brown or gray coats, and white facial markings and underparts. The most distinguishing feature is the white rump patch (on the defassa) or elliptical rump ring (on common).
There are 72 different species of antelope in Africa. Across a savannah populated by many different antelope species, it is the white rump markings that readily identify the waterbuck.
Defined as “sedentary” for not migrating, waterbuck are also territorial. They have a social structure involving female herds, bachelor herds, and mixed family groups of up to 30. Bachelor herds have a distinct social hierarchy based on size and strength, with various performance contests and displays.
They live approximately 18 years in the wild, with females giving birth to only one calf per season. Although their conservation status is listed as “least concern,” the population is trending downward due to hunting and habitat loss.
Sometimes safari observers overlook waterbuck in lieu of psychedelic zebras or exotic elephants. But sometimes it is just nice to sit and watch the waterbuck.
Actually, it is a sublime pleasure and honor to find waterbuck quietly grazing along the Chobe River.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander