The sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii), a semi-aquatic tropical antelope closely akin to the bushbuck in appearance, displays distinctive traits. The male sitatunga is larger than its female counterpart, sporting a shaggier coat. Both sexes bear stripes, and it possesses specially splayed hooves, perfectly suited to its preferred habitat of papyrus, wetlands, and associated ecosystems.
This unique antelope species can be found in suitable habitats across six of Uganda’s national parks. However, while on safari, the likelihood of encountering the sitatunga is highest within the confines of the Katonga Wildlife Reserve.
It’s currently endangered throughout its African range. The major threats to the Sitatunga’s existence are wetland reclamation, hunting and unsustainable harvesting of the plant species that constitute its food. In addition, the species has low resilience to these threats.
The sitatunga exhibits excellent elongation of the hooves, which have a wide splay and naked padlike pattern. They possess unique flexibility of the joints at the feet, representing structural adaptations for walking on boggy and marshy ground.
Coloration varies geographically and individually. Males are grey-brown to chocolate-brown, females are brown to bright chestnut, and calves are bright rufous-red, woolly coated, spotted, and striped. Adults have long coatings with whiteish marks on the face, ears, cheeks, body, legs, and feet.
Males are considerably larger than females (100 cm tall vs 75-90 cm tall). Males possess horns ranging in length from 508-924 mm, characterized by two twists, and are ivory tipped. The sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii)
Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) Uganda
The sitatunga is semi-social, non-territorial, and sedentary. Swamps are its productive ecosystems, and the antelope can live at 55 square kilometers or higher densities. Females tend to form herds, and males associate together or with females until sub-adult. As adults, males avoid one another.
The semi-aquatic antelope moves through the swamp along established pathways and has numerous side branches leading to feeding grounds and neighboring riverine forests. It’s diurnally and nocturnally active and may move into marshy land at night.
They typically feed at any hour in areas where they are protected and also lie on platforms of vegetation that each animal prepares for itself by repeated circling and trampling. They also stand and ruminate in the water.
Sitatungas are slow and clumsy land runners, but their plunging run works well in water. Their broad and splayed hooves keep them from sinking in soft ground as deeply as other ungulates. They are usually slow and inconspicuous and are good swimmers.
Males often bark at night, sometimes as an alarm signal or perhaps as a way of announcing their location. Females have a single higher-pitched bark, and a male following a female in a low stretch may utter a suppressed roar. The sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii)
Breeding in sitatunga occurs throughout the year. Males are polygamous, and females produce a single young at an average interval of 11.6 months. The mean gestation period is 247 days, and sexual maturity is attained at approximately one year by females and 1.5 years by males.
During copulation, a male will approach a female in a low stretch posture while the female may back away slowly. When the male comes within a few inches of the female, she may suddenly bound away, causing a considerable commotion in the swamp. The male will persistently follow but always stays behind.
Females hide their calves on platforms in secluded dry reeds growing in deep water. Calves cannot move slowly and deliberately through the swamp like adults and follow their mothers closely for several months.
A mother feeds near the calf’s hiding spot, finishes, and walks up to the calf. It licks the young’s snout and then moves away. The calf gets up and follows the mother, leading it to a protected place where it can suckle.
You’ll see sitatunga and many other related antelope at Katonga Wildlife Reserve in western Uganda, along the Katonga River banks.
The 211 square kilometers (81sq mi) reserve, 200 kilometres west of Kampala, protects many plant and animal species unique to its wetland environment.
Basing your visits from Ibanda or Kamwenge towns, you can explore the reserve at a comfortable pace. The towns have decent accommodation for a budget traveler. Also, UWA runs a camping site with guides and a restaurant within the reserve.
You can only explore Katonga Wildlife reserve by walking or canoeing. The reserve hosts over forty animal species and over 150 bird species. Apart from the sitatunga, on a walk, you’re most likely to come across reedbuck, waterbuck, warthog, bushbuck, Colobus monkey, elephant, and otter.
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