Nutritional ecology of a browsing ruminant, the kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), through the seasonal cycle

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Abstract

The activities and food selection of four hand-reared kudus were recorded in a large fenced enclosure containing natural savanna vegetation in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa. Leaves of selected species were analysed chemically for crude protein, fibre constituents, phosphorus, condensed tannin and total polyphenols. Available protein and metabolizable energy were estimated allowing for potential antinutritional effects of tannins.

Leaves of palatable deciduous woody plants and herbaceous forbs formed the main dietary constituents during the late wet season. Foliage from palatable evergreens and robust forbs were added to the diet during the dry season. Towards the end of the dry season unpalatable species of evergreens were eaten. At the start of the growing season new leaves of otherwise unpalatable woody species formed the staple food source, together with fruits of Strychnos spp. Correspondingly, protein and digestible dry matter concentrations in the diet declined to reach a low at the end of the dry season.

Total daily food intake increased to compensate for reduced dietary quality during the dry season, until little edible foliage remained. While the estimated daily intake of protein remained well above maintenance requirements, the estimated metabolizable energy intake fell below requirements during the late dry season. Phosphorus intake may have been submaintenance in the dry season. Nutritional balance was dependent on the availability of particular vegetation components to serve as nutritional stepping stones during crucial times of the year. These included forbs during the late wet season, palatable evergreens in the dry season, and Strychnos fruits plus early-flushing woody plants during the dry season-wet season transition.

Ancillary