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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rare sighting: Sitatunga antelope, Okavango delta

Last week while in Botswana I was fortunate to see this beautiful male sitatunga. We were in the Okavango Delta near near Xugana camp, about 70kms due north of Maun, on eastern edge of main delta. He posed beautifully for us which is unusual for this shy and cautious antelope most often spotted by aircraft.

The sitatunga or marshbuck (Tragelaphus spekei) range throughout Central Africa and are semi-aquatic antelope. They spend a good portion of their time in the dense reed beds and submerged in water up to three feet in depth. They will even submerge themselves up to their nostrils when disturbed. In Botswana they are confined to the permanent water areas of the Okavango Delta and in the Linyanti river system.

The sitatunga's hooves are well-adapted to walking through the papyrus sedge. They have 7-inch long hooves which splay out as weight is placed on them, enabling them to cross over mud, floating vegetation and in the reed beds. The rams have long twisting horns which curve like a kudu's but to a lesser degree.

Their main predators are lions, which ambush them along the reeds, but they are also hunted by leopard and wild dogs. When chased, they will head straight to deep water and they are excellent swimmers.

This was a rare and memorable occasion for us.

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