A nyala dominance display

As a field guide, spending time with wild animals and observing their behaviour is always special, no matter their species or size. One animal that has always fascinated me is the nyala. Nyala bulls in particular have a very interesting way of asserting their dominance, and we happened to come across two bulls in full display while out on a recent drive.

‘’What are they doing?’’ my guests asked, understandably intrigued by the long fringe of hair standing to attention along each animal’s back.

Nyala male at Kapama Reserve

Nyala male at Kapama Reserve

“They’ve got goosebumps”, I replied, causing a few laughs, but went on to explain that the technical term is ‘piloerection’. Dominant males raise their long, dorsal hair-fringe and lift their fluffed up tails over their rumps, exposing the maximum amount of white colouring in order to appear larger. Unlike giraffes and many other herbivores that fight each other for territory or females, nyala bulls that perform this full-out display almost always win without coming to blows.

Piloerection can be seen on impalas as well, but not as a display of dominance. On cold mornings you’ll see them lift the hairs all over their bodies to trap a layer of heat while they wait for the day to warm up.

Like most of the guides here at Kapama, I’ll never get tired of sharing sightings of interesting animal behaviour like this with my guests.

Written by: Chane Blignaut

Kapama Karula

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