IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

Comprehensive Description

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Comprehensive Description for nyala (Tragelaphus angasii)

Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) are a species of large antelope that reside in South Eastern Africa. Nyala have an average lifespan of 16 years (Castello, 2016). Adult nyala can weigh anywhere from 100 to 158.4 kg (220 to 348 lbs), with females weighing an average of 40% less than their male counterparts. The potential weight of nyala varies in response to the season and/or the current population size. Nyala are extremely sexually dimorphic. Females and adolescent males have a short, reddish coat with ten or more white stripes on their sides. These white stripes are progressively lost in males as they mature.

Males are much larger with spiraling horns that are not present in females. These horns can fully spiral anywhere from 1–1 ½ times and are typically longer than 500 mm in adults, though they can grow up to 835 mm. Despite these extravagant horns, male nyala establish dominance through exuberant displays and rituals rather than actual fighting. Fighting between males is extremely rare, and the primary use of the spiraling horns seems to be plowing the ground. Many male nyala, both adult and adolescent, have been witnessed digging into the ground with their horns. This is particularly common around watering holes (Tello & Van Geller, 1975).

Males also have a large, shaggy mane on their neck and the underside of their body that the females lack. The mane beneath their hips is unique to this species and has not been witnessed occurring in any other antelope. Adult males have a dark brown fur coat that usually covers the white stripes present on their sides. It takes approximately a year for females to mature, and 18 months for males (Castello, 2016). Nyala are native to Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. They have also been introduced to Botswana, due to their introduction to farms in adjacent regions, and to Namibia. In the 1950s nyala went extinct in Swaziland, but have since been successfully reintroduced (Castello, 2016).

Nyala prefer to reside in thick brush for the majority of the day, emerging in the early morning and in the late afternoon. They are very cautious about traveling through wide open clearings, and when they sense a predator they give a deep, dog-like bark before dashing back into the thickets. Nyala travel in troops that can be comprised of anywhere from 2-10 individuals. These troops can be both single-sex and mixed. Typically, older males are solitary. Nyala are not particularly territorial, and often multiple troops will have heavily overlapping ranges without incident (Castello, 2016).

The main predators of adult nyala are leopards and lions, while the juveniles face predation from baboons and raptorial birds (Trell, Van Geller, 1975). Cape hunting dogs are a threat to nyala of all ages, as they also share the SE corner of the African continent that the nyala populate. 80% of all known nyala live on South African protected areas, with the majority of the rest residing on private land. They are most prevalent in South Africa, where they are bred to meet the high demand for male nyala as trophies and a source of meat. This high demand has made them a staple of Africa’s tourism, and careful conservation of the species has led to the species being labeled one of least concern in terms of threat of extinction. However, it has also been determined that Nyala in particular are vulnerable to the looming threat of global warming. This is because a pillar of their diet, Urocloa mozambicensis, dries up and dies quickly during periods of drought like those that would be associated with the predicted warming climate (Kazembe, 2009). While global warming may cause their numbers to dwindle, the aforementioned plant is not their only food source and it is unlikely its loss would drive them to extinction. Nyala eat vegetation from more than a hundred different species of plants, consuming leaves, fruits, flowers, and even high-lignin content items like twigs and bark (Tello, Van Geller, 1975).

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© Jacob Mullins; ENV 201 at Arizona State University. Editor: Becky Ball

Supplier: Becky Ball

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