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The nyala

14 November 2013

 

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The nyala was already described scientifically as Tragelaphus angassii at its first description in 1849 by Angas based on a specimen from St Lucia Bay in KwaZulu-Natal. It was named for his grandfather George Fife Angas. The name nyala is derived from its izulu name inyala. It has no subspecies and its natural distribution is southern Malawi, Mozambique, the northern and eastern Limpopo, and the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces in South Africa. It has been introduced widely in South Africa to the detriment of the ecologically similar bushbuck.

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The nyala shows extreme sexual differentiation in coat colour and size. The bulls are large, while the much smaller females are known as ewes. The coat colour of the ewes and of bulls younger than eight months old is rusty red. The older bulls are slate grey to dark brown. In younger bulls, up to 14 white, vertical stripes occur, with only three to four stripes in the older bulls. There is a characteristic white dot on each side of the base of the tail. Some adult ewes have a white chevron band between the eyes, and they have up to 18 vertical white stripes. The bulls have a long dorsal crest from the back of the head to the base of the tail but the ewes have a short crest. Nyalas with aberrant coat colouration are known. The adult bull weighs 110 kg and has a shoulder height of 112 cm as opposed to 62 kg and 97 cm in the ewes. Only the bulls have horns, which are spiralled.

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The ideal habitat is thickets, often on the shores of rivers, dry and open savannas close to grasslands or wetlands. It feeds on green grass flushes almost exclusively when it is available, but it is mainly a browser and eats flowers and wild fruits during the dry season. The general diet consists of 20% grass and 80% browse. The nyala browses up to 2 m high and drinks about 3.5 litres of water daily when it is available, but it does occur where water is only available seasonally. It prefers natural waterholes when drinking water.

The nyala can form herds of up to 80 animals, but usually a breeding herd consists of up to four adult ewes. The bulls are usually alone, while the breeding herds also include young animals. Small bachelor herds of two to three bulls may form. Nyalas are not territorial and have overlapping ranges within and between the sexes. The mean range sizes of a bull and ewe are 0.65 km2 and 0.83 km2 respectively. The nyala breeds throughout the year, but false ruts may occur from January to May and again in October. The lambs are born in peaks in the early summer and in May. The ewe remains fertile for 14 years. The gestation period is 220 to 230 days. A single lamb weighing 4.2 to 5.5 kg is born, but twins are known. The lamb is born in thicket cover and the ewe eats the afterbirth to keep predators from detecting her lamb. The lamb remains hidden for up to 18 days, and weaning occurs at the age of seven months. The interval between births is around ten months and the population growth rate is from 23 to 35% (mean: 28%), but less at 17,5% in the Kruger National Park with its large carnivores. The life expectancy of a nyala is 15 years.

References:

Grubb, P 2005. Order Artiodactyla. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (eds), Mammal species of the world, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp 697 – 698

Skinner, J D and C T Chimimba (eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 629 – 632.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

 

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