Kudu's On The Move Again


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Kudu's on the move again

Article courtesy of: Mr Roelof Bezuidenhout
Published in the Farmers Weekly magazine (7:50 (GMT+2), Sun, Sunday, September 07, 2014)

Kudus are showing up in places that people think are outside their normal habitat. But Jokl le Roux, wildlife enthusiast and former CEO of the East Cape Game Ranchers’ Association, discovered that there’s less to this phenomenon than meets the eye.

Kudus in the Western Cape? What’s going on? The fact is that the recent appearance of these majestic animals where sightings have never been recorded is not as strange as it might seem. At local or district level, kudu populations grow or wane over the short term due to the level of hunting pressure, weather events, available browse and disease. As a result, farmers could perceive the antelope as being either more or fewer than during the previous hunting season.


Now take this one step further, as Jokl le Roux, wildlife enthusiast and former CEO of the East Cape Game Ranchers’ Association, suggests. There is a bigger picture to kudu population dynamics, one that covers herd movements over an entire region, stretching back over periods longer than human memory.

Currently, the kudu population of the Eastern and Western Cape is isolated from the rest of the species’ range in South Africa. Its Northern Cape occurrence is at least 400km above the confluence of the Vaal and Gariep rivers, while about 600km separates these antelopes from the KwaZulu-Natal population north of the Tugela. But this wasn’t always the case, says Jokl.

First sightings
The kudu was first described in 1727 in De Beschryving van De Kaap de Goede Hoop, by naturalist Peter Kolbe. In 1775 and again in 1782, kudu were recorded in the Sundays River Valley near Sunland in the Eastern Cape. Yet, in his Travels through the Cape, 1772-1776, Andries Sparrman, the well-known naturalist, saw great numbers of hartebeest, eland and even buffalo, but very few kudu.

Lieutenant William Paterson, another naturalist, who travelled through the Albany District in 1779, apparently saw no kudu. And explorer and zoologist Martin Lichtenstein, who visited Hermanuskraal (Fort Brown) where kudu are abundant at present, did not mention them at all.

But by the end of the 1840s, kudu were more common in the Albany District than generally thought. In an 1853 booklet, based on observations made between 1848 and 1852, WT Black wrote that “these handsomest of the larger bucks may be observed in small herds, or solitary, about the Fish River”.

Kudus “also frequent the country between Double Drift and Graskop [now the Andries Vosloo Kudu Reserve] and that eastwards of the Fish River and some have been seen up as far as Lieufontein on the road to Fort Beaufort”. At that time, kudu were in demand for their hides for the manufacture of velschoens, but populations that built up in the latter half of the 19th century were most likely seriously depleted by the rinderpest, which reached the Eastern Cape in 1897.

It took decades for kudu populations to revive, but it’s known that before the Second World War they were relatively plentiful in the Great Fish River Valley and upper Keiskamma near Alice. During the early 1900s, meanwhile, kudu were largely unknown in areas that are today considered as their ‘traditional’ stamping grounds, such as the Uitenhage, Jansenville and Graaff-Reinet districts. It was only during the 1920s that fairly large numbers started occurring on a few farms owned by conservation-minded landowners in the Uitenhage area.

The first regular sightings in the Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet districts only began occurring in the early 1950s.The Sundays River, with its lush vegetation, must have been the main artery for kudu migration from Uitenhage northwards towards Graaff-Reinet, while the Kamdeboo and Bull Rivers, tributaries of the Sundays, could have seen them migrating towards the Aberdeen area.

The Western Cape
In 1777, William Paterson saw kudu and shot one in the Little Karoo near Volstruisleegte, while John Barrow found several along the Olifants, near Kamanassie in 1797. George Thompson noted kudu near Beaufort West in 1823. A further sighting south of Beaufort West in 1875, more than 50 years later, indicated that some habitat, although marginal, was available for the species.

The antelope were spotted in the Prince Albert district immediately south of Beaufort West in 1920. Thereafter, numbers in the Karoo and Little Karoo receded drastically until a report in the Eastern Province Herald on 6 June, 1970, stated:
“For the first time in many years, kudu have been found in the Oudtshoorn District.”

Possible causes
A reason for the sporadic large-scale disappearances of kudu could have been outbreaks of rabies, to which kudu are highly susceptible due to their habit of browsing on thorny vegetation. In the southern Karoo, the cause was probably the region’s severe cold, wet spells. Kudu are very sensitive to cold, and a low fat content in the animals’ bone marrow results in mass mortalities during cold weather, as happened in July 1991.

In Historical Incidence of the Larger Land Mammals in the Broader Eastern Cape Province (1987), CJ Skead has an interesting explanation for the unexpected upsurge in kudu numbers in the Eastern Cape after the war.

“Prior to 1940,” writes Skead, “kudu had been classed as Royal Game, enjoying total protection. However, much illegal shooting took place in the rugged, mostly isolated kudu country. The Great Depression of the mid-1930s, when food and cash was in short supply, also put game populations under pressure.

“At the outbreak of World War II, the government called in all rifles, only returning them in 1948/1949. However, ammunition was then almost unobtainable. Later, when ammunition became available in reasonable quantities, the price was so high that the pre-war practice of ‘loosing off’ dozens of rounds per animal, had to be curbed.”

As a result, the kudu enjoyed more than a decade’s protection from 1940 to the early 1950s.

In Willowmore in the 1960s
By the mid-1960s the species was well established in the suitable habitat of the Valley Bushveld in the Uitenhage and Kirkwood areas, as well as in the spekbos thickets and Noorsveld of the Jansenville district. It soon spread further west, first into the Steytlerville and then the Klipplaat areas.

Once kudu were re-established in the Willowmore district in the late 1960s, after a scarcity or even absence of many decades, it wasn’t long before further westward movement took place.The Prince Albert district was reached by the first vagrant bulls in the early 1970s.

Reversal in direction
From Prince Albert it took about 20 years for kudu to reach the Laingsburg area. The antelopes also extended their range north-eastwards towards Beaufort West. The current kudu population south of the Swartberg range between Ladismith and Oudtshoorn was probably mainly fed from the Karoo via the Gamka River Valley and up the Olifants River Valley, although kudu had also migrated into the Little Karoo down the Olifants River from the Willowmore side in the east.

This represents a reversal in migration direction, since it is quite possible that about 80 years previously it was Little Karoo kudu that replenished stock in areas further east where the rinderpest had a severe influence. Given its recent history, it would not be impossible for kudu to breach the Hottentots Holland mountains and establish populations in pockets of suitable habitat in the Boland.

Phone Roelof Bezuidenhout on 083 262 2817.
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South Africa, KwaZulu Natal, Kalahari, Northwest, Limpopo, Gauteng, APNR Kruger Area. USA Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas
This is such a majestic animal. My son took his trophy last year on a 6000 acre farm that was not high fenced. He was tending five cows at the time. One shot from the 300 Win Mag and a short 60 yard run and he was done. The next day we saw the cows again and you guessed it there was a new younger bull with them. Hope they keep growing in number.

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