Colours of Wildlife: Reedbuck

1 Conversation


Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Reedbuck by Willem

Back to the antelope faces. This is a Reedbuck, Redunca arundinum, also called a Southern Reedbuck to distinguish it from the Bohor Reedbuck which occurs farther to the north. The reedbuck is a medium-sized antelope, rams standing about 90 cm/36" at the shoulder and reaching a weight of 95 kg/210 lbs. Ewes are slightly smaller, and lack horns. Reedbucks can be told from Mountain Reedbucks, which I'm going to feature next week, by their much longer and less forward-curved horns (in the rams). They tend to have white bases to their horns, which is due to small bits of horn (keratin) flaking off. They also inhabit quite different habitat. Reedbucks are found in northern and eastern South Africa, and from here northward to Angola, the DRC and southern Tanzania. From there on northward they're replaced by the Bohor reedbuck.

Bucks of the Reeds

Reedbucks are not often seen. In fact, I've only seen them myself on a couple of occasions. A particularly noteworthy viewing was at Lake Saint Lucia on the northern coast of Kwazulu-Natal, which is where they are most common. This is actually not a lake, but a huge estuary. In the reedbeds flanking the estuary, reedbucks occur. I was on a walk and saw the antelope a long way off. It was very relaxedly grazing in a patch of medium-sized grasses amidst the reeds. I stealthily crept up closer, and the antelope kept on eating. I was sure it should have been aware of me, since it was completely out in the open and while I was being as stealthy as I could, I couldn't actually turn myself invisible. Finally I was so close that even if the antelope were blind, it should have been able to hear and smell me. But it kept right on, totally absorbed in its noms. Then suddenly it lifted its head and became aware that I was just a few yards away! It went off charging through the reeds like a cat suddenly seeing a cucumber. This shows that even wild animals are not always very vigilant and perceptive. If I was a hunter, or a leopard, it would have been tickets for this reedbuck. As it was, it received a mighty fright, but would live to nom another day.

Reedbucks are indeed grazers, and while they live in and around dense reedbeds, they don't actually eat the reeds. They prefer fairly tall and fresh grasses. But these are also found around the reedbeds. They do eat a small amount of herbs and leaves. They're actually able to do fine on grass of poor nutritional quality. Reedbucks use reeds for shelter, but don't like trees or bushes. They also don't like actually going into the water, which the related waterbucks do a lot. They do need water for drinking, and on hot days may have to go to the waterside a few times. They tend to be nocturnal, but may feed during the day too, as my encounter demonstrates. They don't live in herds, but most of the time as couples in small territories.

Communication takes on some interesting guises for these bucks of the reeds. They use sound a lot, making a loud whistle by blowing air through their noses. This is used as an alarm call but also as a contact call to make other reedbucks aware of their presence. A particularly strange sound is a popping noise which they make when running off (though I didn't notice it in my own startled reedbuck). This apparently is made by the pockets holding their inguinal scent glands! Scent is also important for communication, and they leave scent trails through the reeds which help a mated male and female keep in touch with each other. Apart from the inguinal glands, they also have scent glands below their ears – in some populations this is visible as a dark black spot, but this is absent in others. Reedbucks have a strange way of running, which renders them highly visible to each other, lifting their hindquarters high while going down with their forequarters, like a rocking horse. They also may intersperse leaping with running, similar to the 'pronking' of the Springbuck. They also keep their heads up high while they run. Males challenging each other for territory will also use a high, 'proud' kind of walk to render them more visible amidst the reeds and to size each other up.

Reedbuck breeding can happen any time of the year, but depends on there being lots of food around. The ewe gives birth to a single lamb, which hides itself amidst grasses or reeds. Its mother only comes to it once a day to suckle and clean it. After each such session, the little lamb will move off and find a new hiding place. At the age of two months it starts to accompany and graze with its mother. By the age of three or four months, the mother and lamb will join the ram. Only when the ewe gets pregnant with the next lamb, will the older offspring move off on its own – but if the ewe should lose the new lamb, the old one may return to her.

Vanishing with the Wetlands

Sad to say, these handsome antelopes are dwindling in South Africa. They are still plentiful in suitable habitat, but that suitable habitat is becoming scarcer. Wetlands have suffered a lot because of human activities. So much water is taken out of natural rivers for the sake of providing water for human towns and settlements or for agriculture, that natural marshes and swamps are drying up. Especially water-hungry are the many plantations of trees that have been established in what in the past was grassland with a high surface run-off rate, causing a massive drying-up of wetlands in mountainous regions. In addition, some suitable habitat has become taken over by trees and shrubs as a result of overgrazing by domestic goats or cattle – or even by other antelope species in poorly managed game reserves. Today reedbucks have entirely vanished from regions where they used to occur like the Western and much of the Eastern Cape, and the Free State. They've suffered range contractions in the Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, but still occur here and there. The only place where they're still plentiful is the northern Kwazulu-Natal coastal region. Smaller, fragmented populations may turn out not to be viable over the long term. This is one of the antelope species that really could do with a bit of help. Once granted a bit of suitable land, its needs are very easy to satisfy. Reedbucks could even successfully co-occur with people and domestic herds, with a well-thought-out veld management plan. Lets hope this happens so that more people will have the opportunity to glimpse these elegant antelopes in the wild.

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