The Mystical Waterbuck by Ranger Jacques

December 2018


According to bush fundi’s the trademark white ring around the rump of a waterbuck acts as a “follow me” sign. Females and their young live in herds, when they flee from any impending danger the white ring will induce other members of the herd to follow. This is not a strategy that helps to keep the entire herd safe, but has a rather more selfish goal. By having an animal behind and in front, the individual antelope is less likely to be caught from either direction. My mom however gave me a very different explanation as a kid. It involved waterbuck not listening and going to sit on the toilet seat before the paint was dry, but I will have to settle for the experts’ opinion on this one. Even though one can agree that both explanations make perfect sense. The white ring does however also benefit the young during dangerous situations as the beacon makes it easier to follow mom when fleeing.


The name waterbuck is simply derived from the fact that they are always found within a 5km radius, but usually less than 2km from the water.  They are very water-dependent and will drink several times a day. Interestingly waterbuck have glands in their skin that release a musky odour. Territorial males are especially smelly and the odour can be detected from up to 500m away. It has been suggested that these glands help with waterproofing the coat of the animal for their water-loving lifestyle. This theory however has not been definitively proven and thus the topic is open for debate. I have often heard people saying that predators will not feed on waterbuck because of these glands, this however is untrue as they are preyed on by all predators strong enough to do so.

Waterbuck are grazers feeding on the medium to short pastures close to waterholes, but they will also browse during dry conditions. Males are territorial but will not be able to hold a territory until they are at least six. Thus young males will join a bachelor herds. Interestingly even at less than a year old, as territorial males will not tolerate the young males amongst the females after they have been weaned. There is a hierarchy system within these bachelor herds determined by pushing contests. Therefor the older and bigger animals will always be dominant.


The territorial males advertise their status by standing in an obvious position with their heads held high. Displaying their thick necks, and so their strength to would – be contenders. The best territory to hold is one with access to good grazing and drinking water. The herds of 2-10 females will visit these territories more often and give the males a better chance at mating.

Interestingly bulls do sometimes tolerate “satellite” males in their territories. These are younger bulls that act submissively to the territory holder. They do however assist with territorial defence. They often inherit the territory if something happens to the dominant male.


Waterbuck calves are quite unique in the sense that they are relatively mobile during their lying up period. This refers to the 2 – 4 weeks immediately after birth during which time they remain hidden away from the herd. After the mother came to feed the little ones will find their own hiding place. When threatened they will however often flee rather than lying still and hoping to not be detected. During this phase of their lives they are very vulnerable.