SITATUNGA - Tragelaphus spekei
The sitatunga is a medium-sized, somewhat scruffy looking chocolate colored antelope with a shaggy coat and a distinctive white chevron marking below the eyes. It has widespread almost bird-like long thin hooves, an adaptation to swamp living, skimming along the top of papyrus beds and soggy mud. Sitatunga are often believed to inhabit swamps alone however they are also found in dense forests and along the edges of plains and dambos.
Males appear much darker than females and usually are solitary except when females are in season. Breeding males tend to be medium aged with horns about twice the length of their ears while the older solitary bulls, no longer active, sport horns 3 times or over their ear length. Older males also have a visibly silver maned neck and are much heavier bodied. Due to their stealth sitatunga may not appear to be numerous however early in the mornings and late afternoons their characteristic bark belies their scarcity. Younger males and females have a sharp high pitched bark while old bulls have a deep almost fleghmy coughing bark.
Sitatunga live in swamps and marshes and are most active in the early morning and late evening when they feed in the reeds and papyrus beds. They very seldom leave the safety of the swamp, preferring to do so at night, making the hunting a fair challenge.
If pursued heavily or wounded they will often hide underwater with only their nostrils exposed for a considerable length of time. Sitatunga believe more in hiding than fleeing and always seek out the deepest densest reed beds to pass the day.
They are hunted from raised platforms or mushanes, boats and “makoros” with a shot having to be taken quickly. Sometimes they only appear as they pass through a gap in the reeds. Many shots are taken with the PH counting down as the bull approaches a gap and the client pulling the trigger when the PH yells “shoot” and often not seeing the animal until it is fetched.
Hunting sitatunga in the swamps early in the season (May thru July) can be a testing experience as one has to wade through knee deep water in the early dawn hours and then climb into a raised mushane and sit in the cold morning breeze waiting for daylight.
Without a doubt hunting in this manner is one of the classic african experiences yet is not for the fussy or weak hearted hunter.
hunting tips – the trophy
The sitatunga is one of the more specialist animals to hunt due their limited distribution in the south and central African hunting countries. It remains a much sought after trophy, particularly for those hunters vying for SCI awards categories. A good set of horns will usually be going into its second curl, with the first curl sporting a deep bell which extends outwards past the ears. However some sitatunga also have horns which resemble those of a nyala.
Sitatunga have a distinct manner of walking as their front legs appear to be shorter however this is just their manner of negotiating their swampy habitat. Big bulls sport this distinctive swaggering walk usually with their horns held regally aloft.
hunting tips – the caliber
Usually shots are taken at some distance from a raised platform, so a long shooting rifle like 7mm’s & 300 Magnums are a good choice. make sure of your shot, often the platforms you shoot from are not that stable and the sitatunga only appear for a few seconds. Add this to your PH’s excitement and it makes for a very difficult shot.
Sitatunga are not overly tough animals and a good shot will do the job however their dense habitat makes finding a wounded animal very difficult. The papyrus beds where they live have a tangled root structure which lies above deep water and entering into this thicket can mean falling through holes and is very dangerous for those who do not know what they are doing. In addition the deep water has crocodiles and often a current flows so if you fall through you may risk the chance of going under and being swept away. Following up a wounded animals is usually a PH’s nightmare with little success. Therefore make sure of your first shot.
hunting tips – where
Three sub-species are recorded for SCI purposes:
The Zambezi Sitatunga is probably the most commonly hunted of the species however recent closures in Botswana make Zambia one of the only countries where you can hunt them. Traditionally the vast waters of Zambia’s Bangweulu swamps is where most sitatunga were shot, however of late other regions in Zambia are producing some good bulls. The north western Kafue areas have seen a surge in sitatunga populations while there are some very good specimens on game ranches throughout the country.
East African Sitatunga can be hunted in the north-western areas of Tanzania (moyowosi) with decent success while there has been some good success in the past three years on Forest Sitatunga in southern Cameroon. Reports of numerous sitatunga in Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia may result in more choice for the hunter however currently Zambia is your best and safest bet.