A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate
A lesson in kudu karate

When two kudus on the banks of the Olifants River in the Greater Kruger National Park have a go at each other, chances are only one will reign supreme. This specific showdown has a surprising twist that will leave you stunned. Pictures by Roy Terlien

Wild traveller Roy Terlien was watching kudus on the banks of the Olifants River when a laid-back tussle turned into a vicious brawl.

“A large group of kudus had come down to the river for an afternoon drink and to browse on some of the sparse greenery. Two of the younger male kudus started sparring, like they often do. Initially they did not seem to be taking it seriously as they weren’t being convincingly aggressive,” says Roy.

“The lightweight pushing and shoving went on for some time. Not having the camera with me at the time, I thought: ‘Better fetch it!’ Little did I know what was to come. I did not see what caused the sudden shift in behaviour, but the fight quickly became genuinely aggressive and increasingly intense.”

The other kudu landed metres down the steep bank, simultaneously hitting the ground and a dead tree as it fell.

– Roy Terlien

With their horns locked and heads just above the ground, Roy noticed something startling. One of the kudus had only one horn…

“The one-horned kudu put in a huge shove and dug its horn into the sand. That along with the steep bank created the impetus needed for a perfect shoulder throw. An animal weighing more than 200kg was tossed in the air. The other kudu landed metres down the steep bank, simultaneously hitting the ground and a dead tree as it fell.”

As Roy notes: “There’s probably a very good reason the victorious kudu has only one horn…”

“I was really concerned that the strain of the throw would break one or both their necks. The defeated kudu hit the ground so hard I was convinced it couldn’t have survived. My worst fears seemed to be confirmed. The loser lay immobile as the one-horned kudu looked on impassively. Could it feel victory or concern?”

“Then the victor walked off to find the rest of the herd as if nothing had happened. With dismay I watched the other kudu lying there, wondering if it was to become a meal for the crocodiles lurking in this stretch of river. After nearly 10 minutes, the fallen kudu returned to life, jumped up and climbed the bank – though obviously unsteady and dazed. Once it reached level ground, it stopped and stood still for some while.”

Wild asked Trevor Carnaby, field guide and author of Beat about the Bush, to shed some light on the encounter. “Fights like this are very common and although it appears something out of the ordinary, it is the terrain that has contributed to the spectacular somersault-part of the sequence. The horn of this individual has been broken off leaving only the basal stump. This is usually the cause of either fighting with other kudu males (most likely) or a break that occurred when fleeing from predators through thick bush (less likely).”

Trevor says regrowth is unlikely. “Given that the remaining horn is almost at two twists (as big as they generally get), there is not likely to be any growth on the broken horn as both horns grow from the base at an equal rate. Horns will only continue growing if the animal is young and the break is not too close to the base.”

A surprising triumph?

Trevor explains: “In reality, one-horned males usually do not engage successfully in fights because they cannot effectively check the two-horn advances of their opponent when horn-clashing. Two things led to this male turning the tables: Firstly, he had longer horns than his opponent, and secondly, the single horn allowed him to fortuitously get it tangled around the horn of his opponent. This can happen when both animals have two horns and inevitably leads to the death of both individuals.”

Narrow escape

“It looks as though the two-horned kudu is carrying a wound above his right eye at the end of the fight. Had the slope not been there, this fight could have ended quite differently, despite the size and experience advantages of the one-horned bull.”

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