The “Grey Ghost” of African safari – The Kudu

On an African safari one of the things that astonishes guests is how big game can seem to disappear into the bush right in front of their eyes. Surprisingly to most elephant are masters of this and watching a herd of these giants blend into the scrub and suddenly vanish is a spectacle to behold but none measures the seemingly invisible comings and goings of Africa’s “grey ghost”, the Kudu. In my view the most beautiful antelope encountered on safari, these tall and majestic mammals have a shoulder height of up to 1.5 m/5.5 ft and weigh up to 315kg/787 lb making them amongst the largest in the African veld.

Part of the spiral horned group of antelope, the kudu is an extremely sensitive and wary quarry, blending in with their surroundings remarkably well, often preferring to stand dead still instead of taking flight. Often you will get a surprise when you just come across one of these huge animals standing there staring at you but more often you will just hear are the sound of hooves and the knock of their spiral horns on branches as they take off ahead of you. If they do not want to be seen they will stand motionless in bushes and under trees to avoid detection and then only the very experienced human eyes can see them. I have sat with friends around a fire in the bush and nobody noticed that a large bull had come up and stood watching us from 5 ft away. It was there just looking at us without drawing any attention and when we finally spotted it he just stayed there staring at us for another minute or two before immediately melting back into the bush. Anybody who experiences this will be left in no doubt as to how the Kudu earning its moniker of “Grey Ghost”

Kudu are also famous for their ability to jump up to 3.5m/8.5ft from a standstill! On a night drive another night we encountered a large male kudu on the road. We got excited and looked forward to a great sighting of this animal when suddenly there was a jolt of movement and it was gone. It had been standing there but in one action had leapt the Kruger Park game fence and vanished in seconds. We were all left in the jeep still wondering what happened but at that stage the Kudu was already away from the scene. Another fabulous experience of the secretive African “Grey Ghost”.

Both males and females have numerous white markings, including 6-10 vertical stripes along the sides, a chevron between the eyes, and cheek spots. All of them have a short upright mane from the top of the head to the shoulders, extending underneath along the throat. The black-tipped, bushy tail is white underneath. When disturbed, the tail is curled up over the back so that the white underside serves as a visual alarm signal for the rest of the herd to follow in dense bushes.  Only males have long, spiral horns that are spectacular, making up to 3 graceful twists with an average length of 51″. The horns are seldom used in defence against predators; nor are they an impediment in wooded habitats. The kudu bulls will only tilt the chin up and lay the horns against the back, moving easily through dense bush.  For those watching the World Cup in South Africa you might be interested to know that the now famous Vuvuzela are derived from the Kudu horn. This instrument was used by local African tribes to call villagers to meetings or to announce other traditional occasions.

When on safari you hope to encounter lion, leopard, and others of the Big 5 but I hope this blog introduces you to other exciting viewings which can make your holiday the best ever and turning you into an Africa addict.

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