sitatunga crossing a savanna

Saturday, June 11.     It is late afternoon as I return from checking a camera trap in a nearby forest. Shortly after crossing a stream I walk out from beneath the trees to catch sight of a shadow moving slowly through the drying grasses of the savanna. A very large sitatunga has left the forest ahead and is picking his way toward a nearby gallery forest. He freezes when he encounters my track from an hour earlier. I can see his nervousness build as he samples the breeze. Fortunately, he is upwind from where I am watching.

Sitatunga male cautiously crosses a narrow savanna.
Sitatunga male, Tragelaphus spekii, cautiously crosses a narrow savanna.

His caution soon overwhelms him and he spins around, trotting back to his forest. Sitatungas have disproportionately long hooves, evolved for support and balance when in their usual swampy, inundated forest environment. In the soft, dry sand of savanna, he appears awkward in his haste. At the forest edge, his caution returns, ears alert as he carefully nozes his way into the thick border vegetation to slip out of sight.

According to Kingdon’s Field Guide To African Mammals, an adult male sitatunga can weigh more than 100 kilograms. This adult was well over that. Kingdon goes on to say, “they avoid attention by cautiously entering thick vegetation and sink down into water slowly, leaving only the snout and part of the head above the surface”. My imagination will have to dwell on that little drama.

A minute later, the breeze tickles through the leaves of the tall ozougas, making the grasses dance across the savanna. A pair of hornbills break the reverie with their wheezing, melancholy whistles. A beautiful memory for a beautiful day.

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