An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Bovinae
            Genus: Tragelaphus

Tragelaphus spekii



Tragelaphus spekii [P.L. Sclater, 1863].  
Citation: In Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, p. 223.
Type locality: Tanzania, Karagwe, W of Lake Victoria, restricted to Bukoba district, Lake Lwelo, 2oS, 30o57'E
The taxonomic record (above) is taken from Wilson and Reeder (1993).  The sitatunga was formerly placed in the genus Limnotragus, but is now included in the subgenus Tragelaphus (Nowak, 1991).  T. spekii is sometimes spelt spekei.  Invalid synonyms include albonotatus, gratus, inornatus, larkenii, selousi, sylvestris, ugallae, and wilhelmi (Wilson and Reeder, 1993).  

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 115-170 cm / 3.5-5 ft.
Shoulder Height: 75-125 cm / 2.2-4.1 ft.
Tail Length: 30-35 cm / 12-14 in.
Weight: 40-120 kg / 90-260 lb.

The shaggy, water resistant coat varies in colour among populations, but is generally a rufous red in females and immature males.  As the males mature, they gradually become to a grayish chocolate brown, growing a scraggly mane and a white dorsal stripe.  There are white markings on the face, and stripes and spots on the body in both sexes, although they may be obscured by the shaggy pelage.  The hooves are long and extremely narrow (up to 10 cm / 4 inches in length) with extended false hoofs, an adaptation to the marshy environment.  The horns, found only on males, have 1-1.5 twists and grow 45-90 cm / 18-36 inches long.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 7 months
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: After 6 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 1-2 years, males at 2-2.5 years.
Life span: Up to 19 years.

Breeding occurs throughout the year, and the young lie in concealment on raised reed beds.

Ecology and Behavior

Spending most of its time among boggy papyrus beds in swamps, the sitatunga's elongated hoofs and flexible toe joints are excellent adaptions, preventing them from sinking into the soft ground.  Sitatunga are excellent swimmers, and, when threatened, flee into deep water.  They have been known to submerge themselves completely underwater, with only their nostrils above the waterline.  Pathways are sometimes forged through the reeds, which are often used by hunters to set snares.  While sitatunga are both nocturnal and diurnal, they are most active at dawn and dusk, and may move onto marshy land at night.  Males have a loud, barking vocalization.

Family group: Singly or in small, all-female groups.
Diet: Leaves, buds, shoots, fruit, reeds, and grasses.
Main Predators: Leopards, lions, pythons


Swamp forests and marshes in Central and Western Africa.

Countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire?, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana? [RE?], Guinea [RE], Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger [RE], Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo [RE?], Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe? (IUCN, 2002).

Range Map (Redrawn from IAE, 1998)

Conservation Status

The sitatunga is listed as a low risk, near-threatened species sby the IUCN (2002).  Only the population in Ghana is listed by CITES, and is on Appendix III (CITES, 2003).


The name sitatunga is from an archaic Bantu language of Rhodesia.  Tragos (Greek) a he-goat ;.elaphos (Greek) a deer; in combination referring to an antelope.  Captain J. H. Speke (1827-1864) was an explorer of Central Africa.

Local names (from Kingdon, 1997)
Nzohe [Swahili]
Sitatunga, Limnotrague, Guib d'eau (Walther, 1990)
Sitatunga, Sumpfantilope, Wasserkudu (Walther, 1990)

Literature Cited

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology) 1998. Tragelaphus spekii. In African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 and 2. Bruxelles: European Commission Directorate. Available online at

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).  2002.  2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available online at

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991.  Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition).  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Walther, F. R. 1990.  Spiral-horned antelopes.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 344-359.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

Additional Resources

Alden, P. C., R. D. Estes, D. Schlitter, and B. McBride.  1995.  National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife.  New York: Chanticleer Press.

Beudels-Jamar, R. C., P. Devillers, and J. Harwood.  1997.  Estimating the size of the population of sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) in the "Parc National de l'Akagera", Rwanda.  Journal of African Zoology 111(5): 345-354.

Densmore, M. A.  1980.  Reproduction of sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei).  International Zoo Yearbook 20: 227-229.

Dubost, G.  1979.  The size of African forest artiodactyls as determined by the vegetation structure.  African Journal of Ecology 17(1): 1-17.

Games, I.  1983.  Observations on the sitatunga Tragelaphus spekei selousi in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, South Africa.  Biological Conservation 27(2): 157-170.

Happold, D. C. D. 1973.  Large Mammals of West Africa.  London: Longman Group, Ltd.

Happold, D. C. D. 1987. The Mammals of Nigeria.  Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Katsy, G. D., M. Y. Treus, and V. N. Zubko.  1987.  Dermal structure in antelopes in Ascania-Nove Reseve, USSR.  Zoologicheskii Zhurnal 66(8): 1239-1245.

Kingdon, J.  1997.  The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.  Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

Magliocca, F., S. Querouil, and A. Gautier-Hion.  2002.  Grouping patterns, reproduction, and dispersal in a population of sitatungas (Tragelaphus spekei gratus).  Canadian Journal of Zoology 80(2): 245-250.

Owen, R. E. A.  1970.  Some observations on the sitatunga in Kenya.  East African Wildlife Journal  8: 181-195.

Starin, E. D. 2000.  Notes on sitatunga in The Gambia.  African Journal of Ecology 38(4): 339-342.

Volf, J.  1992.  Sitatunga and its breeding at Prague Zoo.  Ziva 40(4): 187-189.

Williamson, D. T. 1986. Notes on sitatunga in the Linyanti Swamp, Botswana. African Journal of Ecology 24: 293-297.

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