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The Southern reedbuck

23 October 2014

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The subfamily Reduncinae contains the southern reedbuck Redunca arundinum, the common reedbuck Redunca redunca and the mountain reedbuck Redunca fulforuvula. It also shares this subfamily with the waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus, kob Kobus kob, lechwe Kobus leche, Nile lechwe Kobus megaceros, puku Kobus vardoni and the grey rhebok Pelea capreolus.

The southern reedbuck was first described scientifically as Antelope redunca by Boddaert in 1785 based on a specimen from Bethulie in the Free State. However, the genus Antelope is monotypic (only one species in the genus) and only occurs as the blackbuck Antilope cervicapra in India. The southern reedbuck was therefore later placed in the new genus Redunca that was created by C H Smith in 1827. There are no subspecies that are recognized taxonomically.

The southern reedbuck occurs naturally in central and southern Africa but has been introduced to areas where it did not occur formerly. In South Africa it was historically absent from the drier western parts and currently does not occur west of the Komgha district of the Eastern Cape province and in the Limpopo River Valley.

The southern reedbuck is an antelope of medium size with the ram weighing a mean of 67.8 kg and being slightly heavier than a blesbok ram, and an ewe with a mean weight of 49.4 kg. Only the males carry horns that arise close together on the top of the head and curve forward. The horns are ridged from the base for two-thirds the length and the smooth tips tend to be hooked forward. A single ewe with horns that are misshaped has been reported.. The longest recorded horns came from near Thabazimbi in the North West province.

The overall coat colour is a brown tail, head, neck and upper body, tending towards grey and with the back usually darker than the rest of the upper parts. The undersides of the neck and chest are greyish-white and there is a clear colour break along the flanks. There is a distinct half-moon lighter patch on the upper part of the throat which is more distinct in adult rams. The lips are white and the ears are long and pointed. There is a dark brown band down the front of each foreleg and a less noticeable one along the hind legs. The hooves are long and thin and the long tail is white underneath. Juveniles are paler in colour and appear to be more yellowish because they lack the grey tint of the coat of an adult. There is a conspicuous black glandular patch near the base of each ear and this characteristic can be used to distinguish the southern reedbuck from the look-alike mountain reedbuck. The ewe may have up to four glands in a pouch in the groin region but the ram always has two. These glands secrete a yellowish, waxy substance. There are no pre-orbital glands.

The habitat consists of tall grass, reed beds or herbaceous cover, preferably where some woody plants also occur and near a permanent source of surface water. Wetlands which have a central, wet drainage area, or tall grasslands adjacent to a stream or a river such as the Tamboties River on Shayamanzi are preferred habitats. The southern reedbuck avoids flat, open, ranges or heavily bush-encroached areas. Clean burning of such grasslands will cause it to move away. Consequently such habitats should be burned in a rotational mosaic pattern to prevent the grasslands from becoming a moribund, hot-fire hazard.

Southern reedbuck are not gregarious and occur singly or in pairs although they may form temporary aggregations of up to 20 animals during the cold, dry months of the year in the interior savannas. Females and bachelor groups may, however, form at times. An adult southern reedbuck ram utilizes a territory with a mean size of 73 ha and an ewe a range of 123 ha in KwaZulu-Natal. Elsewhere the territory and range sizes may be as small as 5 to 6 ha respectively depending on habitat quality. The socially dominant rams occupy areas that are closest to a reliable food source. Contact between individuals in a habitat is maintained by a sharp whistle.

The southern reedbuck’s activity patterns are governed by season, weather and disturbances. It becomes nocturnal when food and water are plentiful, but extends its activity into the day during the dry season because it then requires large quantities of lower quality food. In addition, it has to drink water more often so as to be able to digest the dry forage at that time. When going to water, the reedbuck follows fixed trails. It does not like to enter water but prefers to drink where it can keep the feet dry. When several southern reedbuck at times drink water together, some individuals remain alert while the others drink water. Southern reedbuck are not bothered by rain but high winds affect their grazing activities.

Social grooming is unknown but southern reedbuck will groom themselves intensively. They normally rest in the cover of tall grasses or reeds but will lie out in full sun when it is cool. When disturbed, a southern reedbuck jumps away with a peculiar popping sound which is believed to be made by the sudden opening of the pouches that contain the inguinal glands. When pursued, it gallops with an occasional long jump of several metres or it may stot by jumping off the ground with the hind legs pulled up more than the forelegs. The hindquarters are then thrown high while the head is erect. At each stot it snorts and the head is thrown back.

The food of the southern reedbuck usually almost exclusively consists of grasses although small quantities of herb may be eaten in some areas in the dry season. In other areas it may, however, browse more extensively in the dry season. In the dry season it prefers to graze on green grasses in wetter patches in wetlands and reed beds. It does not use the sprouting grasses after a veld fire but rather moves away to unburned patches. Surface water is an essential component ot the habitat.

Mating occurs throughout the year but peaks from December to May in the Kruger National Park and the Highlands of KwaZulu-Natal. However, the birth peak is earlier in the more northern regions of Africa. Rams become sexually mature when they are nine months old and ewes when they are 12 to 17 months old. Gestation lasts 7.5 months (225 days) and a single lamb of 4.4 kg is born in isolation per ewe at a time. The lamb hides itself for three months and the ewe suckles and cleans it once daily. An ewe has four inguinal mammae. The ewe with her lamb will join a ram when the lamb is three to four months old. The weaning age is not yet known. The mean lifespan in the wild is only four years for a ram and five years for an ewe. Few southern reedbuck live to become older than ten years.

 

References:

Grubb, P 2005. Order Artiodactyla. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (eds), Mammal species of the world – a taxonomic and geographic reference, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 719 - 722.

Skinner, J D and C T Chimimba (eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 675 - 678.

 

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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