Puku are artiodactyl animals from the bovid family, belonging to the genus of waterbucks. It lives in the central regions of Africa. Favorite habitats consist of open plains near rivers and swamps. Puku are sensitive to disturbance and are currently restricted to isolated areas in floodplain habitat. The total population is estimated to be approximately 130,000 animals scattered over a number of isolated areas.
Species origin and description
Puku (Kobus vardonii) – belongs to the genus of waterbucks. The scientific name was given to the species by D. Livingston, a naturalist who explored the African continent from Scotland. He immortalized the name of his friend F. Vardon.
Interesting fact: Scientists at ICIPE have developed a puku-based tsetse fly repellent for cattle.
Although the species was formerly classified as a southern variety of the koba, genetic studies of mitochondrial DNA sequences have shown that the puku is significantly different from the koba. In addition, the size and behavior of animals also vary significantly. Therefore, today puk is considered a completely separate species, although it happens that they are combined into the genus Adenota common to both species.
There are two types of puku:
- senga puku (Kobus vardonii senganus);
- southern puku (Kobus vardonii vardonii).
Not many waterbuck fossils have been found. Fossils in Africa, the cradle of mankind, were scarce, found only in a few pockets of Swartkrans in northern South Africa in the province of Gauteng. Based on the theories of W. Geist, which proves the relationship between social evolution and the settlement of ungulates in the Pleistocene, the eastern coast of Africa is considered the ancestral home of the waterbuck & # 8212; The Horn of Africa in the north and the East African Rift Valley in the west.
Appearance and Features
Puku are medium-sized antelopes. Their fur is about 32 mm long and differs in color in different parts of the body. Most of their fur is golden yellow, the forehead is more brown, near the eyes, under the belly, neck and upper lip the fur is white. The tail is not bushy and has long hairs towards the tip. This distinguishes the puku from other similar species of antelope.
Puku are sexually dimorphic. Males have horns, while females — no. The horns, 50 cm long, protrude strongly backward two-thirds of the length, have a ribbed structure, a very diffuse lyre shape, and become smooth towards the tips. Females are much smaller in weight, weighing an average of 66 kg, while the weight of males reaches an average of 77 kg. Puku have small facial glands. Territorial males have a significantly larger neck girth on average than bachelors. Both have glandular secretions in the neck.
Fun fact: Territorial males use their glandular secretions to spread their scent throughout their territory. They secrete more hormones from their necks than bachelor males.
This scent warns other males that they are invading territory. Neck spots do not appear on territorial males until they have already established their territories. Puku at the shoulder is about 80 cm, and also have well-developed inguinal cavities with a depth of 40 to 80 mm.
Now you know what a puku looks like. Let’s see where this antelope lives.
Where does the puku live?
The antelope was formerly widespread in grasslands near permanent waters within the savanna forests and floodplains of southern and central Africa. The Puku has been pushed out of much of its former range, and in some parts its range has been reduced to completely isolated groups. Its main range is south of the equator between 0 and 20° and between 20 and 40° east of the prime meridian. Recent studies have shown that puku is found in Angola, Botswana, Katanga, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.
The most numerous populations currently live in only two countries, Tanzania and Zambia. The population is estimated at 54,600 in Tanzania and 21,000 in Zambia. Almost two-thirds of the Puku live in the Kilombero Valley in Tanzania. In other countries where they live, the populations are much smaller. Fewer than 100 individuals remain in Botswana and numbers are falling. Due to declining habitat, many puku have been relocated to national parks and almost a third of their population is now in protected areas.
Puku countries are:
Undetermined presence or vagrant occurrences:
The Puku is inhabited by marshy grasslands, savannahs and floodplains. Seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall affect the mating and movement of puku herds. For example, during wet seasons, herds tend to move to higher habitats due to flooding. During the dry season, they stay near water bodies.
What does the puku eat?
Puku occupies grasslands near permanent waters within the savannah forests and floodplains of southern and central Africa. Although associated with wet areas and marsh vegetation, puku avoid deep still waters. Some of the growth in some populations is due to the end of unsustainable levels of poaching in protected areas, while numbers in other areas are steadily declining.
Fun fact: Puku prefers high protein plants. They eat a wide variety of perennial grasses that vary with the season.
Myombo is the main herb eaten by puku because it is high in crude protein. After the grass has matured, the amount of crude protein is reduced, and puk resort to other plants for protein. In March, 92% of their diet is broad-leaved branch, but this is to make up for the lack of E. rigidior. This plant has approximately 5% crude protein.
Puku is eaten more than other antelopes, this type of grass is high in protein but low in crude fiber. The size of the territory depends on the number of territorial males in the area and the availability of suitable resources in the habitat.
Character and lifestyle features
Territorial males meet on their own. Male bachelors are in the herd only for males. Females are usually found in groups of 6 to 20 individuals. These female herds are unstable because their members are constantly changing groups. Herds travel, eat and sleep together. Territorial males maintain their territories throughout the year.
To defend territory, these lone males emit 3-4 whistles to warn other males to stay away. This whistle is also used as a way to demonstrate to the female and call her to mate. Animals feed mainly early in the morning and again late in the evening.
Puku I communicate, first of all, by whistling. Regardless of gender or age, they whistle to scare other incoming predators. Young puku whistle to get their mother’s attention. Territorial males rub their horns on the grass to saturate the grass with neck secretions. These secretions alert male competitors that they are in another male’s territory. If a bachelor enters an occupied territory, he is driven away by the territorial male there.
Interesting fact: Significantly more collisions occur between two territorial males than between a territorial male and a wandering bachelor. Chases usually take place between territorial and bachelor males. These chases occur even if the bachelor is not aggressive towards the territorial male.
If it is another territorial male, then the property owner is using visual communication in an attempt to scare off the intruder. If the opposing male does not leave, a fight ensues. Males fight with their horns. A clash of horns occurs between two males in a battle for territory. The winner gets the right to hold the territory.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Puku breed throughout the year, but individuals become more sexually active after the first heavy rains of the season. Territorial males are polygamous and gregarious in their territories. But there is evidence that females choose their mates. Sometimes bachelor males are allowed to mate if they show sexual interest in females.
The reproductive season is closely related to seasonal fluctuations, however puku can breed all year round. Most mating takes place between May and September to ensure that offspring are born during the rainy season. The amount of rainfall during this season varies from year to year. Most calves are born from January to April, as the fodder grass during this period is the most lush and plentiful. The typical number of young per female in a breeding season is one juvenile.
Interesting fact: Females do not have a strong bond with their children. They rarely defend babies or pay attention to their bleating, which may indicate a request for help.
Babies are hard to find because they are “hiding”. This means that the females leave them in a secluded area rather than traveling with them. During the rainy season, females receive high-quality food to support lactation, and dense vegetation — hides small antelope for shelter. The gestation period lasts 8 months. Puku females wean their babies from feeding milk after 6 months, and they reach puberty after 12-14 months. Mature calves come out of hiding and join the herd.
Puku’s natural enemies
When threatened, the puku emits an evenly repeated whistle, which is used to warn other relatives. In addition to natural predation from leopards and lions, the puku is also endangered by human activities. Poaching and habitat loss are the main threats to puku. The hayfields favored by the puku are becoming more populated with livestock and people every year.
Currently known predators:
- lions (Panthera leo);
- leopards (Panthera pardus);
- crocodiles (Crocodilia);
- humans (Homo sapiens).
Puku are part of the grazing fauna that is important in structuring grazing communities and supporting populations of large carnivores such as lions and leopards, as well as scavengers such as vultures and hyenas. Puku are considered game. They are killed for food by the local population. They can also be a tourist attraction.
Habitat fragmentation caused by the expansion of human settlements and livestock rearing is a major threat to the puku. The social/tribal system is particularly vulnerable to disruption due to habitat fragmentation and hunting, with long-term consequences of failure to replenish populations.
In the Kilombero Valley, the main threat to the puku comes from the expansion of livestock herds on the edge of the floodplain and habitat damage during the wet season by farmers who have cleared miombo woodlands. Apparently, uncontrolled hunting and particularly heavy poaching have decimated the puku from much of its range.
Population and species status
It is estimated that the number of individuals in the Kilombero Valley has decreased by 37% over the past 19 years (three generations). Zambia’s populations are reported to be stable, so the total global decline over three generations is expected to be close to 25%, approaching the critical threshold for vulnerable species. The species is generally assessed as critically endangered, however the situation needs to be closely monitored and further declines in the Kilombero or key populations in Zambia could soon bring the species to the threshold of vulnerability.
Fun Fact: A recent aerial survey of the Kilombero Valley, home to Africa’s largest puku population, used two additional methods to estimate the abundance of individuals. When surveyed using the same methods as in the previous counts, the population was estimated at 23,301 ± 5,602, which is notably lower than previous estimates of 55,769 ± 19,428 in 1989 and 66,964 ± 12,629 in 1998.< /em>
However, a more intensive survey was undertaken (using 2.5 km inter-sector distance rather than 10 km) specifically for Puku counts, and this resulted in an estimate of 42,352 ± 5927. These figures indicate a population decline of 37% in Quilombero over a period (15 years) equivalent to less than three generations (19 years).
A small population in the Selous Protected Area was decimated. Puku was thought to be declining in the floodplains of the Chobe River, but populations have increased significantly in this region since the 1960s, although population concentrations have shifted eastward. There are no exact population estimates in Zambia, but they are reported to be stable.
Puku are currently listed as endangered as the population is considered unstable and is under immediate threat. Their survival depends on several fragmented groups. Puku have to compete with livestock for food, and populations suffer when habitat is modified for agriculture and grazing. It is estimated that about a third of all individuals live in protected areas.
In addition to the Kilombero Valley, key areas for puku survival include parks:
- Katavi located in Rukwa region (Tanzania);
- Kafue (Zambia);
- North and South Luangwa (Zambia);
- Kasanka (Zambia);
- Kasungu (Malawi);
- Chobe in Botswana.
About 85% of Zambia’s puku live in protected areas. Priority actions for the conservation of puku across their range were discussed in detail in 2013. In Zambia, since 1984, a program has been operating to introduce these animals into the wild. And the results are already visible. After the eradication of poaching, the number of populations began to slowly recover in some areas.
Puku live up to 17 years in the wild. Although people do not consume animal meat, settlers hunted the antelope during the development of the continent, as well as on safari. The puku antelope is very trusting and quickly makes contact with a person. Therefore, a catastrophic decrease in the number of populations became possible.