The Mountain Nyala was the last of the great
African antelopes to become known to science, and still today very
little is known about its habits or the full extent of its range. It
was first collected by Major Ivor Buxton in 1908 and at that time
seemed to be fairly widespread throughout the Arsi and Bale regions.
Large numbers of them lived at very high altitudes, between ten and
thirteen thousand feet, in the mountain forests where it was cold and
wet much of the time, until the pressure of the human population
destroyed vast tracts of their forest habitat. In Arsi the population
is now reduced to a remnant.
Fortunately in Bale, despite a certain amount of
burning of the heath, great tracts of mountain giant heath forest and
hagenia were left unspoiled and the Nyala were never seriously
threatened with extin- ction. They were so much hunted that they
became even more wary and shy than is their nature and one rarely
caught more than a glimpse of them as they melted away into the bush.
The creation of the Bale Mountains National Park has considerably
altered this picture. Here, where they are fully protected, they are
beginning to be much more confident, and one can see them readily,
especially in the mornings and evenings when they come down in to the
hagenia forest on the lower slopes to graze. They are breeding
prolifically and comparatively large groups of females and young can
Nyala are a magnificent sight, particularly the
old bulls with their fine spiralled horns. Females do not carry horns
and they have rather long necks and large ears, which are very
conspicuous. The body colour of an old male is dark grey, with a line
of long hair along the back forming a straggly mane which continues'
along the spine as a brown and white crest. Young calves are bright rufous and can be mistaken for bushbuck if the mother is not seen.
Females are redder that the males, although they tend to become greyer
with age. They move in parties or small herds of about five to ten
females, and although the really old bulls are solitary and not often
seen, young adult males carrying quite impressive spreads of horns,
can sometimes be seen with or near the herds of females and young, and
males are sometimes seen in small groups of two or three individuals.
There are white markings on the legs and two
white spots on the face, a white chevron between the eyes. Nyala are
similar to Greater Kudu but can be distinguished by the single spiral
horns and the absence of clear white stripes on the body. Those of the
Nyala are only faintly visible, and with a few faint spots on the
flanks. It can however, be thought of as a high altitude race of the
lt stands 135 cms. (53 inches) at the shoulder
and weighs some 200-250 kgs. (440-550 1bs). An old bull reaches 300
kgs.(660 Ibs). It has two white patches on the underside of the neck;
the upper very wide and the lower one crescent-shaped. The back and
upper flanks have about four white ill-defined stripes and a few white
spots on the thighs. The tail does not reach to the hocks, it is bushy
with a white underside and black tip.
During the hottest part of the day, Mountain
Nyala lie up in some shady place generally in the giant heath zone.
They often choose a place where anyone approaching gives them warning
by stepping on dried bracken or twigs and they then disappear in an
almost miraculous way - not to be seen again. The best way to observe
them is to select an inconspicuous spot and sit quietly until about
four in the afternoon when they leave the giant heath and come down
among the wider-spaced kosso trees.
The Nyala is not an endangered species - there
is a population of four to five thousand animals in the Bale region
and they are breeding strongly. In fact, it may well be necessary to
cull some of them by controlled hunting in order to prevent them
destroying their own habitat by overbrowsing and breaking tracks
through the undergrowth of the forest cover. Licensed hunting also
brings in revenue to the Wildlife Conservation Organization. Old bulls
with trophy heads (horns over 88 cms. (35 inches) are fairly rare) are
a true sporting challenge to the hunter.
The Bale Park protects and preserves a
representative section of forest and mountain unique in Africa and of
spectacular beauty, as well as Ethiopia's finest antelope.