Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)


Tragelaphus scriptus (Pallas, 1766)

Bushback female and lamb


Photo: Deon Furstenburg

German:Buschbock / Schirrantilope
French:Antelope harnaché
seSotho:Pabala / Tshoso

IUCN Conservation Status:

Lower Risk, least concerned (LR/lc).

As its name implies, this shy antelope is a true bush dweller that spends up to 80% of its life beneath the bush canopy.




Taxonomic descriptions are still in dispute, though 16 subspecies had been identified (Moodley & Bruford, 2007)

• Tragelaphus scriptus sylvaticus, the southern bushbuck of South Africa (shoulder height 60-85 cm, mass 25-65 kg)
• T.s. roualeyni, the Limpopo valley bushbuck of southern Zimbabwe
• T.s. ornatus, the Chobe bushbuck mainly of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola (shoulder height 71 cm, mass 45.5 kg)
• T.s. massaicus, the Masai or East African bushbuck of Mozambique, Malawi and eastern Tanzania (shoulder height 75 cm, mass 56 kg)
• T.s. dianae, the great lakes bushbuck of western Tanzania
• T.s. haywoodi, T.s. dama, T.s. barkeri, the Victoria basin and highlands bushbuck of western Kenya and Uganda
• T.s. fasciatus, the Somali bushbuck of Somalia and eastern Kenya
• T.s. meneliki, the Arusi bushbuck of eastern Ethiopia (shoulder height 75 cm, mass 54.5 kg)
• T.s. powelli, the Shoan bushbuck of central Ethiopia (shoulder height 71 cm, mass 56 kg)
• T.s. decula, the Abyssinian bushbuck of western Ethiopia (shoulder height 66 cm, mass 45.5 kg)
• T.s. dodingae, the Sudan bushbuck of southern Sudan
• T.s. bor, the Nile bushbuck from the Nile River to Lake Chad (shoulder height 76-92 cm, mass 54-64 kg)
• T.s. phaleratus, the Congo bushbuck of Cameroon, Congo and The Democratic Republic of the Congo
• T.s. scriptus, the harnessed bushbuck of western Africa from Gambia and Senegal to Lake Chad (adult shoulder height 71 cm, mass 45.5 kg)

The South African sub-species is a mix of the southern bushbuck, the East African bushbuck and the Limpopo Valley bushbuck. Their ancestor is thought to be the holotype T.s. scriptus, a sub-species found in the rainforests of western Africa.


The bushbuck is a medium-sized antelope. The southern bushbuck are markedly larger than the northern sub-species. The Chobe bushbuck is 15-25% smaller. The long hair, 25-32 mm, gives the coat a furry appearance. Sub-adult rams are a deep chestnut brown that darkens with age to become almost black on the back. Ewes are a light red-brown to a light fawn-brown. Mature rams have a mane from the shoulders to the base of the tail. The tail is short, furry and white beneath.
The areas around the nostrils, lips and chin are white with a distinctive white dot behind the eye and a horizontal white stripe on the front of the neck. A row of white dots and 1-3 short vertical white stripes on the flanks and scattered white dots across the hindquarters. Colouring differs throughout the distribution range. The prominence of the striped pattern decreases as the distribution of the bushbuck radiates from dense forest into savannah regions. The eastern African bushbuck becomes larger and has fewer stripes as its distribution extends further south. The southern bushbuck has only a few white dots.

Comparison To Man

Wildlife Ranching Bushbuck comparison to man


Only rams carry horns. They are smooth with a keel on both the anterior and posterior edges and are a flat triangle when viewed in cross section. They turn towards the tip and almost complete the first turn of a spiral. The Rowland Ward quality of 38.1 cm can be reached at 3.5 years.

Bushbuck ram

Photo: Deon Furstenburg

Habitat requirement

Abundant shade, cover for refuge and nutritious browse fodder are the essential elements of the habitat and are found mainly in thicket, closed woodland, riverine bush and forest. Tropical conditions with a moist climate provide the most suitable environment. Bushbuck can survive without drinking water provided that the diet contains sufficient moisture and that the habitat has ample shade. Bushbuck are vulnerable to drought stress and severe cold, and are sensitive to sudden environmental changes such as overgrazing, bush clearing or thinning and to trampled grass. Ecotones and degraded habitats are not suitable for bushbuck as they prefer pristine vegetation and a good veld condition.


Wildlife Ranching Bushbuck distribution maps

Feeding & Nutrition

The bushbuck is a highly selective, concentrate feeder browsing predominantly on dicot forbs, shrubs and small trees. It selects both plant species and plant specific material, especially young growth from actively growing shoot ends. Bushbuck avoid eating mature leaves from the sides of older branches but rather bite off the entire shoot tip. The diet include flowers, fruit, berries, mushrooms, fungi and succulent roots dug out with the front feet. If available, small portions of the green leaves of medium height, sweet grasses (12-30 cm) are browsed throughout the year. The diet need to be highly nutritious, highly digestible, rich in protein and carbohydrate and low in crude fibre. During drought the declining nutritional value of the diet usually results in major bushbuck mortalities. In captivity bushbuck do well on a mixture of lucerne, antelope cubes, fresh browse, vegetables and fruit. They leave the bush at dusk to feed on pastures and cultivated vegetables and return at the approach of day. During the daylight hours they tend to remain under the cover of thicket.

Social structure

Bushbuck are semi-solitary animals that occur either singly, in pairs, or in small groups consisting of one dominant mature ram, 2-3 adult ewes and 1-2 sub-adult youngsters. The dominant ram stays with a family group throughout the year. Family bonding is weak and individuals constantly exchange between adjacent groups. Groups usually avoid each other where home ranges overlap but temporary gatherings may occur on communal feeding grounds. Sub-adult rams are solitary and keep to the fringes of family groups.

Information Table

Southern Bushbuck information table
Adult body weight
29-71 (avg. 42)
24-48 (avg. 36)
Adult shoulder height
73-86 (avg. 79)
63-74 (avg. 69)
Expected longevity
Age of sexual Maturity
Age of social adulthood (1st mating)

1st Lamb born at

Lambing interval

Post maturity age (last mating)
Rutting season
Year round
Lambing season

Year round
Weaning age months
Gender ratio: natural (all ages)
Gender ratio: production (all ages)
Mating ratio: natural (adults)
Mating ratio: production (adults)
Re-establishment: absolute minimum number needed
Re-establishment: smallest viable population size
Spatial Behaviour: home range
Spatial behaviour: territory range
Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
0.15 per animal
(10% of diet)
0.11 per animal
(10% of diet)
Browsing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio: (browse):
0.33 per animal
(90% of diet)
0.3 per animal
(90% of diet)
Maximum stocking load
0.25 ha per animal (at 450-550 mm annual rainfall)
Minimum habitat size required
Annual population growth
Optimal annual rainfall
Optimal vegetation structure:
Grass height:
Woody canopy cover:

8-35 cm


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