A common and popular antelope that you’re sure to come across on a Kruger safari is this fascinating creature. Waterbuck are never far from a water source as they need to drink it daily (hence the name). They are also have many unique attributes, including being able to secrete an oily, smelly substance that is waterproof and supposedly said to deter predators, however it doesn’t seem that this theory holds any merit.
Listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List, it’s estimated that there are between 3,000 and 7,000 in Kruger Park alone, making them a likely sighting on safari.
One of the easiest ways to identify a waterbuck is by the white ring on its rump, which almost looks like a target. It’s not known exactly why they have these rings except that it, perhaps, makes it easier for them to follow one another in a herd.
Males and females are easy to distinguish as males have long, slightly curved and incredibly-beautiful horns, and are larger than their female counterparts. To give you a better idea of this - male waterbuck can weigh around 270kg and females around 200kg, with the average for this species being between 160 to 300kg.
In terms of their height, waterbuck can grow to between 120 and 127cm at shoulder length.
Waterbuck also have large, round ears and white patches on their face, around the eyes and nose and mouth area. But perhaps one of the most well-known as well as interesting facts about these animals is to do with a pungent odour they give off.
Their long, shaggy coats, which are greyish-brown in colour, secrete an oily substance which is said to make it waterproof. This comes in handy when hiding from predators as waterbuck sometimes take refuge in water to do so. However, this is also the only time you’ll really find them in water. Otherwise, they prefer to just be near it in order to get their daily dose.
Like most herbivores, you’ll find waterbuck in open grassland, shrubland, woodlands and riverine forests, close to a water source, where they are able to graze freely on long, coarse grass and even leaves and several types of trees and bushes.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled in these kinds of areas on your next Kruger Park safari - you’re more than likely to see one or two nursery herds or even a bachelor herd.
As with most animals, dominant male waterbuck are territorial and will defend their territory, often from young males, using their impressive horns. However, it seems that it’s more important for them to do so during mating season.
Non-dominant males would form bachelor herds, while females congregate in nursery herds, where calves can be taken care of and raised. The gestation period of a waterbuck is just over 9 months and only one calf is born at a time. Depending on the area, breeding might be seasonal but in general, calves can be born at any point in the year.
When a calf is born, the mother will hide it, to protect it, for up to three weeks, during which time she will return to the calf regularly to suckle it. She would also clean the calf in order to ensure that it is not detected by nearby predators. For a male calf, its horns will begin to emerge at around 9 to 12 months.
Speaking of predators, waterbuck have quite a few species to look out for as they’re often prey for lions (Panthera leo), cheetahs, crocodiles, leopards (Panthera pardus), hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) and even humans.
On average, waterbuck have a lifespan of between 11 and 18 years, though this depends on the area is which you find them.
Due to their numbers, you’ll find waterbuck throughout Kruger Park, whichever route you take. In our experience, waterbuck can sometimes get spooked quite easily, especially if you approach a herd or make any sudden movements.
Don’t let their cute faces fool you - it’s never a good idea to get too close to them. Should you spot waterbuck on your next Kruger safari, try and get as close as you can and then simply keep still and wait to see what they do.
If they don’t perceive you as a threat or feel intimidated by you, waterbuck will simply continue to graze or do what they were doing before you spotted them.
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