Hunting Sitatunga in Africa
The sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekeii) is a swamp dweller found throughout central Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Gabon, and Tanzania. The sitatunga is a medium-sized antelope with the male being considerably larger than the female. Male sitatunga have horns, females don’t. This makes distinguishing the animals when hunting sitatunga in Africa much easier. Males weigh 150 to 280 pounds, and stand 35 to 49 inches at the shoulder. Females weigh 110 to 125 pounds, and are 30 to 35 inches at the shoulder.
Sitatunga antelopes are highly specialized to live a semi-aquatic lifestyle and spend most of their life in areas like the Okavango Swamp. Their hooves are elongated and splayed with pad-like adjacent skin. This allows sitatunga to control their weight distribution when in water or muddy areas so they don’t sink. They tend to be somewhat clumsy when walking on dry ground. Their heavy coat contains enough oil to make their bodies waterproof.
Sitatunga are commonly found in waters of the southern swamps where they can find protection from predators. They are both a browser and grazer herbivore, feeding on water vegetation, forest vegetation and pastoral food. Normally sitatunga are solitary, except at breeding times, but a few animals can travel together. Males mark out their territories and avoid other males by “barking” to advertise their presence.
The most common sitatunga predators are lion, leopards, and wild dog packs. When threatened by an animal hunting sitatunga in Africa, they head for deep water or swamps, where they will submerge with only their nostrils above water. The nature of the sitatunga and the inaccessibility of their habitat makes performing population estimates fairly difficult. Aerial surveys tend to underestimate animal numbers. An older estimate put the population at 170,000, however it is thought that number is an overestimation.
It’s not uncommon to see the sitatunga sharing habitat with the lechwe. Both antelope are aquatic and prefer the swamps. Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to future populations of sitatunga. Major areas of wetlands have been drained and are being farmed, which forces the sitatunga into smaller areas. Farmers use fire to burn off grass and weeds to enable planting. Fire can do permanent damage to swamplands.
About 40% of the population lives in and around protected areas. In some areas, sustainable trophy hunting is an economic form of utilization of this antelope. The large swamp areas associated with rivers provide refuge for the sitatunga. It also aids those that are hunting sitatunga in Africa by producing some of Africa’s largest trophies. The specie’s significance as a trophy animal is an important incentive for the conservation of its habitat, and hunting zones that border park lands have great potential to play an increasingly important role in the future of the sitatunga.
Expect to get muddy and wet when hunting sitatunga in Africa. These antelope are extremely exciting to hunt, especially if you are hunting sitatunga in Africa in Botswana on the Okavango Swamp Delta or in Zambia’s Lake Bangweulu Swamps. For this hunt you will use a “mocorro”, a dugout canoe made from a single hollowed-out log. It is driven by being poled. There will be four people on board; two polers / trackers, your PH and you. It is an absolutely silent way to travel down the rivers and swamps. The animals won’t hear you coming and you can see hippos, crocodiles, elephant, and, hopefully, a trophy-sized sitatunga as you float along. The fun really starts when one of the polers sights a trophy animal, and you have to stand up in this fragile, rocking canoe and make a 50-75 yard shot while working hard not to fall out of the boat.
The forest sitatunga is hunted by sitting on elevated platforms overlooking marshy open areas and waiting for a feeding sitatunga to show himself. Another way of hunting forest sitatunga is by using pygmy trackers to follow the sitatunga's tracks in the foestt and once the sitatunga is spotted, specially trained dogs are released to corner and surround the sitatunga until the hunter can approach and achieve a clear shot.
A good rifle and caliber is the .300 Winchester Magnum with 180-grain bullets. The sitatunga is a difficult animal to hunt, due to its propensity to stay in thick cover near mardhy areas. Do your part when hunting sitatunga in Africa, and you will get a trophy that you will treasure forever.