Kongoni (Alcelaphus buselaphus), sometimes common or steppe hartebeest, or cow antelope, is a species from the bovid family of the bubal subfamily. Eight subspecies have been described by researchers, of which two are sometimes considered independent. Common subspecies are valuable hunting trophies due to their tasty meat, so they are often hunted. Now it is easy to find hunting tickets on the Internet, including Kongoni, as the species rarely moves and does not hide, so hunting the animal is quite easy.
Species origin and description
The genus Bubal appeared about 4.4 million years ago in a family with other members: Damalops, Rabaticeras, Megalotragus, Connochaetes, Numidocapra, Oreonagor. Analysis using molecular relationships in Congoni populations suggested a possible origin of the species in eastern Africa. Bubal quickly spread through the African savannas, replacing several previous forms.
Scientists have documented an early split of Kongoni populations into two distinct lineages around 500,000 years ago — one branch north of the equator and the other south. The northern branch diverges further into the eastern and western branches, almost 0.4 million years ago. Probably as a result of the expansion of the tropical forest belt in Central Africa and the subsequent reduction of the savannah.
Eastern lineage gave rise to A. b. cokii, Swain, Torah and Lelvel. And from the western branch came Bubal and the West African Kongoni. The southern origin gave rise to kaama. These two taxa are phylogenetically close, diverging only 0.2 million years ago. The study concluded that these major events throughout the evolution of the Kongoni are directly related to climatic features. This may be important for understanding the evolutionary history of not only the Kongoni, but also other African mammals.
The earliest fossil record is from almost 70,000 years ago. Kaama fossils have been found at Elandsfontein, Cornelia and Florisbad in South Africa and Kabwe in Zambia. In Israel, Kongoni remains have been found in the northern Negev, at Shefeli, on the Sharon Plain, and at Tel Lachish. This Kongoni population was originally restricted to the southernmost regions of the Levant. Perhaps they were hunted in Egypt, which affected the population in the Levant and disconnected it from the main populations in Africa.
Appearance and features
Kongoni — large ungulate, from 1.5 to 2.45 m long. Its tail is from 300 to 700 mm, and the height at the shoulder is 1.1 – 1.5 m. Appearance is characterized by a steep back, long legs, large glands under the eyes , crest and long narrow rostrum. Body hair is about 25 mm long and has a fairly fine texture. It has lighter patches of hair on most of its gluteal region and chest, as well as some parts of its face.
Fun fact: Males and females of all subspecies have 2 horns ranging in length from 450 to 700 mm, so it's hard to tell them apart. They are curved in the shape of a crescent and grow from one base, and in females they are more slender.
There are several subspecies that differ from each other in coat color, which varies from pale brown to brownish gray, and in the shape of the horns:
- Western Kongoni (A. b. major) – pale sandy -brown, but the front of the legs is darker;
- Caama (A. b. caama) – reddish-brown color, dark muzzle. Black markings are visible on the chin, shoulders, back of the neck, thighs and legs. They contrast sharply with the broad white patches that marked his sides and underside;
- Lelwel (A. b. lelwel) – reddish brown. The color of the torso varies from reddish to yellowish-brown in the upper parts;
- Lichtenstein's Kongoni (A. b. lichtensteinii) is reddish-brown, although the flanks have a lighter shade and a whitish tubercle;
- Swayne (A. b. swaynei) is a rich chocolate brown with subtle white patches that are actually white hair tips. The face is black, except for the chocolate line under the eyes;
- Kongoni (A. b. cokii) is the most common subspecies, which gave the whole species its name.
Tora subspecies (A. b. tora) – dark reddish-brown upper body, face, front legs and gluteal region, but the lower abdomen and legs are yellowish white;
Puberty may already occur by 12 months, but representatives of this species do not reach their maximum weight until 4 years.
Now you know that the hartebeest is the same as the Kongoni. Let's see where this cow antelope is found.
Where does the Kongoni live?
The Kongoni originally lived in grasslands throughout the African continent and the Middle East. Grasslands and savannahs in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the miombo forests of southern and central Africa up to the tip of southern Africa. The range extended from Morocco to northeastern Tanzania, and south of the Congo — from southern Angola to South Africa. They were absent only in deserts and forests, especially in the tropical forests of the Sahara and the Guinea and Congo basins.
In North Africa, the Kongoni has been found in Morocco, Algeria, southern Tunisia, Libya, and parts of the Western Desert in Egypt (the exact southern extent of distribution is not known). Numerous remains of the animal have been unearthed during fossil excavations in Egypt and the Middle East, especially in Israel and Jordan.
However, the distribution radius of the kongoni has been drastically reduced due to human hunting, habitat destruction and competition with livestock. Today the Congoni are extinct in many regions, the last animals being shot in northern Africa between 1945 and 1954 in Algeria. The last report from the southeastern part of Morocco was in 1945.
Kongoni are now found only in:
- Burkina Faso;
- Ivory Coast;
- South Africa;
Kongoni inhabit the savannas and grasslands of Africa. They are usually found along the edge of woodland and avoid more enclosed forests. Individuals of the species have been recorded up to 4000 m on Mount Kenya.
What do the Kongoni eat?
Kongoni feed exclusively on grasses, selectively on pastures of medium height. These animals are less dependent on water than other Bubals, but are nonetheless dependent on the availability of surface drinking water. In water scarce areas, they can survive on melons, roots, and tubers. More than 95% of their food during the wet season (October to May) — it's grass. On average, grass never makes up less than 80% of their diet. It has been established that Kongoni in Burkina — Faso feed mainly on bearded vulture grass during the rainy season.
The main diet of the Kongoni consists of:
In the off-season, their diet consists of reed grass. Kongoni eats a small percentage of Hyparrenia (grass) and legumes throughout the year. Jasmine kerstingii is also part of its diet at the start of the rainy season. Kongoni is very tolerant of poor quality food. The elongated mouth of the animal increases the ability to chew and allows it to cut grass better than other bovids can. Thus, when the availability of succulent grasses is limited during the dry season, the animal can feed on tougher, aging grasses.
More species of grass are eaten in the dry season than in the wet season. Kongoni can get nutritious food even from tall dried grasses. Their chewing adaptations allow the animal to eat well even during the dry season, which is usually a difficult period for grazing artiodactyls. The animal better extracts and chews the meager shoot of perennial grasses during those periods when food is least available. These unique abilities allowed the species to prevail over other animals millions of years ago, which led to successful distribution in Africa.
Character and lifestyle features
Kongoni are social animals living in organized herds of up to 300 individuals. However, moving herds are not as cohesive, and tend to disperse frequently. There are four types of animals in the structure: territorial adult males, non-territorial adult males, groups of young males, and groups of females and young. Females form groups of 5-12 animals, each of which can have up to four generations of offspring.
It is believed that there is strong dominance among female groups and that these groups determine the social organization of the entire herd. Females have been observed to fight each other from time to time. Male cubs may stay with their mother for up to three years, but usually leave their mothers after about 20 months to join groups of other young males. At the age of 3 to 4 years, males may begin to try to take over the territory. Males are aggressive and, if challenged, will fight furiously.
Fun fact: Kongoni are non-migratory, although under extreme conditions such as drought, populations can change their location significantly. It is the least migratory species in the Bubal tribe, and also consumes the least amount of water and has the lowest metabolic rate among the tribe.
The sequence of head movements and the adoption of certain stances precedes any contact. If this is not enough, the males lean forward and jump with their horns down. Injuries and deaths happen, but they are quite rare. Females and young animals are free to enter and leave the territories. Males lose their territory after 7-8 years. They are active, mostly active during the daytime, grazing early in the morning and late in the evening and resting in the shade towards noon. Kongoni make quiet quacking and grunting sounds. Young animals are more active.
Social structure and reproduction
They mate in Congonis throughout the year, with several peaks depending on the availability of food. The breeding process takes place in territories that are protected by single males and are preferably located in open areas on plateaus or ridges. Males fight for dominance, after which the alpha male follows the female with lowered ears if she is in oestrus.
Sometimes the female stretches her tail a little to demonstrate her receptivity, and the male tries to block her way. Ultimately, the female stops in place and allows the male to mount her. Copulation is not prolonged, often repeating again, sometimes twice or more in a minute. In large herds, mating may occur with several males. Copulation is interrupted if another male intervenes and the intruder is driven away.
Breeding varies seasonally depending on the Congoni population or subspecies. Birth peaks occur from October to November in South Africa, from December to February in Ethiopia, and from February to March in Nairobi National Park. The gestation period lasts 214-242 days and usually results in the birth of one calf. At the onset of childbirth, females isolate themselves in bush areas to give birth to offspring.
This is markedly different from the birth habits of their close wildebeest relatives, which give birth in groups on open plains. Kongoni mothers then leave their young hidden in the bushes for several weeks, returning only to feed. Young animals are weaned at 4-5 months. Maximum lifespan is 20 years.
Kongoni's natural enemies
Kongoni — shy and extremely cautious animals with a highly developed intellect. The normally calm nature of the animal can become ferocious if provoked. During feeding, one individual remains to observe the environment in order to warn the rest of the herd of the danger. Often guards will climb onto termite mounds to see as far as possible. In times of danger, the entire herd disappears in one direction.
Kongoni are hunted by:
- hyenas ;
- wild dogs;
Congonis are very noticeable on grazing. Although they seem a little awkward, they can reach speeds of 70 to 80 km/h. Animals are very alert and cautious compared to other ungulates. They primarily rely on their eyesight to detect predators. Snorting and stamping with a hoof serve as a warning of approaching danger. Kongoni break off in one direction, but after they see that one of the members of the herd is attacked by a predator, they make a sharp turn of 90 ° after only 1-2 steps in a given direction.
Thin long legs of the Kongoni provide a quick escape in an open habitat. In the event of an imminent attack, formidable horns are used to protect against a predator. The elevated position of the eyes allows the stallion to continuously scan the environment, even when he is grazing.
Population and species status
The total population of the Kongoni is estimated at 362,000 animals (including Liechtenstein). This total figure is clearly affected by the number of surviving Caama (A. b. caama) in southern Africa, which is estimated to be around 130,000 individuals (40% on private land and 25% in protected areas). By contrast, fewer than 800 members of the Swain species survive in Ethiopia, with the vast majority of the population living in a few protected areas. there has been a downward trend. On this basis, the species as a whole does not meet the criteria for threatened or endangered status.
Population estimates for the remaining subspecies were: 36,000 West African Congoni (95% in and around protected areas); 70,000 Lelwel (about 40% in protected areas); 3,500 Kenyan kolgoni (6% in protected areas and most in ranches); 82,000 Liechtensteins and 42,000 Kongoni (A. b. cokii) (about 70% in protected areas).
The surviving Torah number (if any) is unknown. Lelwel (A. b. lelwel) may have experienced a significant decline since the 1980s, when its total number was estimated to be > 285,000, mostly in CAR and southern Sudan. Recent dry season surveys evaluated a total of 1,070 and 115 animals. This is a significant decrease from over 50,000 animals estimated during the dry season of 1980.
Kongoni Swayne (A. buselaphus swaynei) and Kongoni tora (A. buselaphus tora) are under threatened with extinction due to small and ever-decreasing populations. Four other subspecies are classified by the IUCN as of lower risk but will be assessed as endangered if ongoing conservation efforts are insufficient.
The reasons for the decline in populations are unknown, but are attributed to the expansion of cattle into kolgoni feeding areas and, to a lesser extent, habitat destruction and hunting. Kindon notes that “probably the largest decline in the beast has occurred in the range of all African ruminants.”
Fun fact: In the Nzi-Comoe region, numbers have fallen by 60% from 18,300 in 1984 to about 4200. The distributions of most congoni subspecies will become increasingly patchy until they are limited to areas where there is effective control of poaching and encroachment by livestock and settlements.
Kongoni competes with livestock for pasture. Its numbers have declined markedly across its range, and its distribution is increasingly fragmented as a result of overhunting and the expansion of settlements and livestock. This has already happened in most of the former range, some key populations are now declining due to poaching and other factors such as drought and disease.