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Kobs And Lechwes

Jul 28, 2017

Our SCI record book is a great reference for both desk and field. It does an excellent job of “organizing” the bewildering array of Africa’s hundred-plus species, subspecies and races of antelopes into understandable groupings. One such grouping is the family of “waterbuck, lechwe, kob, puku and reedbuck,” taxonomically the antelope subfamily Reduncinae. Although this large group varies tremendously in size and color, there are obvious shared features: All are creatures primarily of wetlands or well-watered grasslands. Only the males have horns; the horns are heavily ringed and generally have a forward curve, although with kobs and lechwes, this may be only in the uppermost portion of the horns.

From a hunter’s perspective, this last is important because much of the length lies in the curve. As with most animals, a rear view is misleading—most horned (and antlered) animals look bigger going away. But with these antelopes, a frontal view is inadequate—straighter horns may look tall, but the curve hides inches and must be viewed.

Boddington-Kob-and-Lechwe-072817The common or ringed waterbuck has a white bullseye on its rump. The defassa waterbucks have a white rump patch instead; they are divided into regional groupings with subtle differences in color and size. Honestly, though, they are all similar in appearance—especially from a shoulder mount view—and most African areas have one or another waterbuck.

The reedbucks, much smaller with forward-curving horns, are also widely distributed. Across Africa, they essentially come in small, medium and large: Large is the common reedbuck, medium are the bohor reedbucks and small are the mountain reedbucks. There is just one common reedbuck, found from southern to East Africa in well-watered areas. The bohor reedbucks are smaller and more yellowish, found in regional grouping across the sub-Saharan savanna zone from East Africa to West Africa. Mountain reedbucks are smaller and grayer, with three very discontinuous races confined to isolated mountain habitats.

Of this large group, the kobs, lechwes and waterbucks are of the same Kobus genus, thus closely related. I have always found the kobs and lechwes the most interesting. Kobs are creatures of grasslands, lechwes of floodplains. Neither is usually particularly difficult to locate or stalk, but all have limited ranges that lead you to some interesting corners of Africa. And although colors and size vary considerably, the thick, curving horns are extremely attractive!

We hunters identify five lechwes. Once the most widespread and accessible, with the Okavango closed the red lechwe is now available only in southwestern Zambia and Caprivi. The Kafue Flats lechwe is found only on the floodplains of the Kafue River south of Lusaka, easily accessed by a short side-hunt added to any Zambian safari. This lechwe has longer horns than the red lechwe, and males often have darker highlights on shoulders and lower chest. The much smaller black lechwe is found only in the Bangweulu region of Zambia. Although not nearly as accessible, the Bangweulu is also not an exclusive concession, so any Zambian outfitter can reserve a few days. Interestingly, the “black” lechwe isn’t always black, but many males show more of the black highlights seen on Kafue lechwes, and some are very dark. South Africa’s “common lechwe” are introduced, probably from Kafue Flats stock as dark highlights are fairly common. Large herds are uncommon, but today many operators have small herds.

Sadly, it is not currently possible to take a full collection of the lechwes. The fifth and most beautiful, the Nile or Mrs. Gray’s lechwe, is a very dark, almost black animal with white shoulder patch and long, curving horns. There are still good numbers of them east of the Nile in Sudan, and possibly in extreme western Ethiopia but, due to long-term civil unrest, no native-range Nile lechwe have been taken in the past 30 years.

The kobs are very similar in appearance to the lechwes, but a quarter to a third smaller in body and horn. As with lechwes, we identify five kobs. Four are found from western Ethiopia and northwestern Uganda across Africa to Senegal. The fifth is the puku, once known as Vardon’s kob, most common in Zambia’s Kafue but found from southwestern Tanzania and Malawi in spotty distribution across to Angola and Botswana’s Chobe region.

Although records indicate the Uganda, white-eared and western kob are about the same size in potential horns, the Uganda kob is a stout antelope — over 200 pounds. Now huntable only in northwestern Uganda, it is Uganda’s national animal, a very attractive reddish antelope with beautiful curving horns. To my eye, the western kob of northern C.A.R. and Cameroon is considerably smaller in the body and more of a golden color. In this region, they essentially replace the impala as the most common medium-sized antelope and are readily hunted in savanna areas. Smaller yet—and now separated for this reason—is the West African kob, from Nigeria westward to Senegal and most readily hunted in Benin and Burkina Faso. The puku is very common in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley.  Similar in appearance to the western kob, it has shorter horns of similar diameter, thus giving their horns a thicker appearance.

As with the lechwes, it is not currently possible to hunt all the kobs. Most distinct is the white-eared kob, white ears and eye-rings, and often darker highlights on face, neck and chest in older males. The white-eared kob is widespread and believed plentiful in southeastern Sudan and still occurs in Ethiopia’s Gambella region but, as with Nile lechwe, due entirely to unrest—not scarcity—the white-eared kob has not been available since the 1980s. I believe—and certainly hope—hunting will someday reopen in South Sudan’s East Equatoria province. If it does the Nile lechwe and white-eared kob are just two of several indigenous antelopes that haven’t been huntable in many years.--Craig Boddington

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