The Beautiful and Majestic Nyala

October 2018

Images courtesy of Mike Currie

There is a type of antelope that likes to welcome our guests as they come through the gates of the lodge more than any other. This antelope is often overlooked by locals because of their large numbers in the region. If you have ever been at Amakhosi you will probably already know what I am referring to our Nyalas of course. I thought of giving some interesting information on these beautiful antelopes.

The name is derived from the traditional Zulu word for the animal, “inxala’’. These antelope are mainly browsers but will take short fresh grass, strip bark and take fallen fruit and flowers.

They exhibit a big difference between the male and the female. Females are a tawny colour and have up to 18 white stripes. Males are slate grey with 14 white stripes. The stripes or disruptive markings will help with camouflage in their thicket habitat. The males also have the spiraled horns which the females lack.

For the males, their coat is very important and plays a vital role in social interactions. It serves as a form of visual communication whereby the males show off their impressiveness and superiority. Interestingly when born males resemble females. Young male Nyala only begins to take the slate-grey physical appearance of a bull from around 14 months. It will take another 10 months before the transformation of coat will be complete. Why the males resemble females for the first 14 months is somewhat of a mystery. It might be that the tawny colour affords better camouflage while still young or it might be a way to reduce negative attention from the mature males.

The females of the species are considered ewes while the males are considered bulls. This is due to the great Sexual dimorphism. Any antelope the size of a female Nyala or smaller will have their sexes described as ram and ewe. Any antelope larger or the same size as a Nyala bull will have their sexes described as bulls and cows.

They live in what is referred to as temporary associations, the only persisting bond being between a mother and her last 2 calves. Where there is a common resource such as a waterhole or good feeding family groups may combine to form larger groups. At these congregations, all but the individual family units will ignore each other, but they will benefit from the collective vigilance that a bigger group afford.

Our guests around the lodge would almost certainly have seen the visual dominance display of the Nyala males known as lateral presentation. This is a method of determining dominance based on physical impressiveness without having to fight and risk injury. The mane along the neck is raised making the animal look bigger. The legs are lifted slowly in an exaggerated high – step walk as they parade around one another head to tail. The tail is lifted and the horns are either lowered (high intensity – ready to fight) or held high (moderate intensity). The loser is the first one to be intimidated, thus lowering his crest and tail.

They also help us to know that predators might be in the area. Relaxing in your hummock you might hear deep barks or alarm calls throughout the day coming from the hills around the lodge. Indicating the presence of lions, cheetah or quite often even leopard.

Next time you visit Amakhosi do yourselves a favour and spend some time watching these entertaining animals. There is much more to them than meets the eye!

See you Soon,

Ranger Jaques Marais