Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus)
- Type: Mammal
- Family: Bovidae
- Habitat: Lowland forests
- Location: Central and West Africa
- Diet: Twigs, leaves, fruits, and shoots
- Average lifespan in the wild: 19 years
- Size: Body length 5.6-8.3 ft (1.7-2.5 m); horns 30-39 in (75-99cm)
- Weight: 440-550 lbs (200-250 kg) for females; 440-880 lbs (200-400kg) for males
The bongo is a very striking forest antelope with a brilliantly colored hide and long, smooth, spiral-shaped horns. Both male and female bongos have horns, but the female’s horns are thinner and more parallel. Males are larger than females, reaching up to 880 lbs.
The bongo lives in Western and Central African forests. Against the trees of the forest, the thin, white, vertical stripes on the bongo’s torso help camouflage the animal by breaking up its body outline. The bongo has a colorful red-chestnut coat, a black muzzle, and legs that are patterned with red-chestnut, black, and white. The inside of its large, broad ears are outlined with white, and on either side of its face the bongo has small white markings.
As the only forest bovid that forms small herds, the bongo relies on the shrubs, bushes, and trees of the forest for both food and cover. Herd size ranges from 5 to 50 animals and is made up of mostly females and their young. Most males are solitary, but some will be present in the herd. The bongo is a very elusive species, and it is easily startled by humans. It is thus very difficult to study. During the day, the bongo stays concealed within the forest, and only at night does it come out into open areas to frequent natural salt licks and graze freely on grasses and herbs. Many mammals visit these meadows, and natural salt licks tend to be the center of activity in the bongo herd’s home range.
As a grazer, the bongo travels through the forest feeding on a wide variety of plants, but most frequently consumes young leaves and shoots, which are high in protein and low in fiber. Its digestive system does not work as well if too much fiber is consumed. The bongo also sometimes eats fruits and flowers, and it supplements its diet with grasses and herbs found near the salt licks. A hoofed animal of the bongo’s size needs to consume large quantities of food to fulfill its energy needs. Tree branches can be broken off or pulled into reach using the bongo’s long horns, and a prehensile tongue makes plucking leaves much easier.
Did you know: The bongo is the only species of spiral-horned antelope in which both sexes have horns.
Photo by Frank Wouters