A baby Situanga walking the waterside
A baby Sitatunga. Photo: Bratislava

Sitatunga, Tragelaphus spekii, is a spiral horned bovine, a semi-aquatic antelope, distinguished by its long, splayed hooves and naked padlike pattern, an adaptive feature for walking through muddy, vegetated swamplands. The hindquarters are higher than the forequarters, giving the animal a peculiar hunched appearance. Body length and weight averages 1.52 cm and 75.55 kg respectively but the Nigerian subspecies, T. s. gratis, is larger. The tail is short, about 20-35 cm long. Coat in in this swamp-dwelling ungulate is shaggy and water-resistant.

Formerly found in most part of Nigeria where populations are fragmented and threatened by excessive hunting pressure. It now probably exists only in the in the Niger Delta where it is quite common in swampy forests in all zones including mangrove, but not in upland areas far from water. It is called uttúbàra in Ijaw and Agbonrin in Yoruba.

Sitatungas submerge themselves completely underwater when threatened, with only their nostrils above the waterline. They may be active during both day and night, but are most active at dawn and dusk. A range of grasses, sedges and browse is included in their diet, howbeit selectively. They occasionally emit one to several barks, usually at night. Sometimes the barking of one individual may be taken up serially by others, up and down the swamp. A single offspring is born after an average gestation period of 240 to 250 days. They lie in concealment on a dry, trampled mat in the swamp for close to a month with short suckling visits from the mother. Sexual maturity is reached at one to two years for females, two to two and a half for males, and the life span is up to 19 years. Sitatunga is protected under the first schedule of the Appendix of Endangered Species Act, and an illegal trader at Lekki market was arrested in 1996.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer