a good Nyala bull

Nyala and Nyala Hunting in Southern Africa

by Peter Ruddle

The Nyala is truly one of Africa’s most beautiful antelopes. Folklore has it that the Creator held this animal’s head in his hand while gazing at his wonderful handiwork, leaving the white dot markings on its face, created by his fingertips.

The English naturalist, George French Angas first described the Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) in 1849, on the shores of Lake St Lucia in Zululand (South Africa), calling it the “Angas Bushbuck”. Hence the origin of its scientific name while its common name came from the Zulu (African tribe) word “Inyala”. That is why today you most commonly hear professional hunters pronounce the word Inyala instead of Nyala as spelt. The name Inyala when translated from Zulu means the “shifty one”, a fitting description for such an elusive species.

A Nyala bull on the background of red flowers

Historical Distribution

Sometimes referred to as the Common or Lowland Nyala, this spiral-horned, middle-sized antelope is a close relative of the Bushbuck. It is smaller in stature than the Mountain Nyala found in the Ethiopian Highlands.

Nyala are now bred and ranched as far west as the arid bushveld regions of Namibia. Originally, this species was only found in the higher rainfall areas of eastern Africa. Their range extended from Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal, through the Greater Kruger National Park into the Limpopo Basin stretching as far as the border regions between Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

Another population of Nyala extended from the Zambezi Delta in Mozambique all the way up the Zambezi River into the Zambezi Valley between Zambia and Zimbabwe with a small isolated pocket of Nyala found in the small landlocked country of Malawi.

Where to Hunt Nyala

Free range Nyala can be hunted in the Sand Forests of Mozambique and the riverine hunting concessions found along the Zambezi River in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia and the Limpopo River basin in Zimbabwe.

They are a popular game ranching species. These ranched animals, bred from the original founder populations of Zululand (northern KwaZulu-Natal Province) are now scattered across the length and breadth of South Africa and even as far as Namibia.

Being predominantly a browser, this species is now found from the Bushveld of Limpopo to the Valley Bushveld of the Eastern Cape. In the more arid regions of Namibia and the Northern Cape these animals are given supplementary feeding to sustain them through the dry winter months. If you are a traditionalist, you would want to hunt them in the far northern Limpopo Province and KwaZulu-Natal where they originally occurred.

Nyala is one of the most graceful African antelopes

How to Hunt Nyala

Rifle Hunting

Being a very active nocturnal feeder, they are best hunted in the early morning and late afternoon. Generally, the big bulls only seem to appear from their wooded hideaways during twilight. If you are hunting on foot you need to be in an area where Nyala are known to occur. They pattern very well but their behaviour changes prior to the arrival and during any cold fronts when they seem to disappear completely.

Besides driving around looking for an animal to hunt which is the most common way to hunt a Nyala, glassing from vantage points can often lead to a successful stalk and kill. On a cold winter’s morning you often find them basking in the sun as if trying to recharge their solar panels for the day’s activities.

Once observed by vehicle, on foot or from a viewpoint overlooking a canyon valley it’s time to plan your approach taking into consideration all the necessary precautions such as wind direction and cover. Most Nyala are shot at short distances as they tend to hug the edges of woodlands and thickets. So you need to ensure that you try to keep your quarry visual as they can very easily disappear into the thickets especially in fading light.

Bow Hunting

Nyala need to drink regularly and in some areas are also attracted to minerals and supplementary feeding sites. This combination makes for an excellent setup for bowhunting from a blind. In most cases outfitters offering bow hunting opportunities have permanently set up bow blinds, ranging from sunken pit blinds to high stands. Bow hunting under these conditions can be very successful.

For the more advanced bow hunter, walking and stalking a Nyala is a fantastic challenge. Due to their forest dwelling habits, hunting them under these conditions offers the bow hunter ample cover to approach or ambush a magnificent trophy. The most difficult part of these hunts is to find a suitable shooting lane and these animals have a habit of always standing with some form of vegetation covering their vitals which does not allow you to release an arrow.

They are drawn to water and enjoy a good drink either in the late morning to early afternoon and in free range hunting situations they often drink in the late afternoon. As previously mentioned they pattern pretty well and in this way can be hunted from a blind or an ambush near a waterhole.

Habits

Family group and herd sizes vary from between 5 and 15. The bulls randomly join and leave the herds unless there is a female ready to breed. Breeding occurs all year round and the majority of lambs are born in spring.

The difference between bull and cow Nyala color

At birth, both sexes look alike and assume the female’s slate brown colouring. The males develop horns from a young age and start to change colour from around 14 months. The males are much larger than the females and you could well believe you are looking at two different species when seen for the first time.

Adult bulls have dark shaggy coats and all that remains of their original brown colouring are their brown socks. As mentioned, they have long white hair that extends from the withers along the length of their back which rises like the hackles on a dogs back when displaying threatening behaviour to another male in their space. During this dominance display their backs are arched, as they walk stiff legged around each other looking like two gladiators about to go into a mortal combat. This fringe and crest display increases their apparent size by up to 40%. In most cases, the display is enough for one of the bulls to back down. This truly is a fascinating display to witness. Sparing and sometimes serious fights do occur, with serious consequences for the losing bull.

Best Season to Hunt Nyala

Being a forest, densely wooded lowland and thicket dweller means that hunting in summer when the foliage is at its thickest should be avoided. Winter is the best time to hunt when many off the trees have shed their leaves. However, early spring (August through September) probably offers the best hunting conditions, just prior to the spring green flush and higher temperatures that drive the animals to water for their daily drink.

Nyala also frequent recently burnt areas, probably seeking out new growth. Many of these fires are deliberately set to improve grazing conditions and control bush encroachment. So check out the burns especially when they are starting to flush with their new fresh growth from September to November.

Trophy Quality

Nyala have lyre-shaped spiral horns. Younger males have beautiful ivory coloured tips which become blunt with age. There are predominantly two horn shapes, animals with bell shaped horns and the classic trophy with flaring horns.

mount by True Reflexion Taxidermy

When viewed from the front we refer to the bell as the shape that the horns take from where they exit the skull to where they meet again. The wider the bell, the better the animal will score. The side view of the horns is known as the bow, the deeper the bow, the better the score. The flare does not occur on all animals but this is when the tips point outwards from where the bell meets at the top of the horns giving them that Harley Davidson look.

Good quality mature trophy bulls measure around 28” in length when measured around the spiral ridge which runs up the length of the horn. 30” bulls are few and far between but some are taken every season.

The world record Nyala currently stands at over 34”.

The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii)

Safari Club International Record Book

Rowland Ward Record Book

Archery Min.

Rifle Min.

Record

Measuring Method

Minimum

Record

Measuring Method

56”

63″

84 5/8″

2

27″

34 4/8″

8

Breeding Projects

This species does exceptionally well in breeding projects. They adapt and breed extraordinarily well to such an extent that this has led to an oversupply in the live game sales market. Many breeders have been breeding for improved horn length genetics. The outcome is that Nyala have been bought by game ranchers all over South Africa and Namibia. This flooded market has led to better quality trophies being available for hunting and trophy fees are decreasing year on year making Nyala hunts more and more affordable.

Fences

They are both jumpers and creepers, so they can go over a fence if not high enough and will creep under a fence when given a chance. Amazingly a Nyala can burst through the smallest of gaps in a fence when pressed by humans or a predator. It seems like the tighter the strands the easier it is for them the break out compared to a more relaxed fence which acts more like a rubber band and throws the animals back out after absorbing the initial impact.

The reason for the high fences in South Africa is that these fences give the landowner full ownership rights to the animals on his property if he meets the recommended high fence minimum standards as set out be the law. This also entitles the landowner to qualify for an exemption permit and excludes them from numerous permitting and licensing law requirements. Free-range Nyala hunts are available in South Africa on ordinary stock fenced properties.

Conservation Threats

Nyala was once so rare in South Africa that game rangers used to doff their hats when they saw one. Today with booming numbers, there are no significant threats. In the large hunting concessions in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia, habitat destruction, human encroachment and poaching always remains a concern.

Animals introduced to the arid regions of South Africa and Namibia require support during the dry winter months with supplementary feeding and the provision of adequate water.

Nyala are listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and export permits are readily available from the respective Nature Conservation agencies.

a good Nyala bull

Hunting Tips

  • When hunting at last light the white chevrons between their eyes and white ridge extending from the withers along their spine often gives their position away in the deep shadows and undergrowth they frequent.

  • Hunters often make the mistake of aiming to low when aiming for the vitals due to the animals long shaggy coat hair hanging below the neck and abdomen.

  • Nyala need to drink regularly, so check for any signs left at a waterhole. Nyala like to scent rub their foreheads and horns in the mud on the water’s edge. This is much like leaving a calling card for them.

  • When hunting during a cold front check out the southern fringes of the forests as the Nyala tend to feed into the wind and end up concentrating in the thickets.

  • Some Nyala react like Bushbuck when bayed and will back into a bush to defend their hind quarters and protect themselves quite aggressively from anything approaching form the front.

  • When tracked and pushed hard, they will find a thicket and freeze until the threat passes them and then backtrack away from danger.

  • Young bulls form bachelor herds while the older bulls are often found on their own and walk with a swaggered gait.

Nyala Venison

Although a little darker than some venison, the taste of this meat is as good as any. Being a more expensive animal to hunt, not many meat hunters shoot Nyala unless looking for a trophy. However, as the Nyala becomes more and more abundant, so too are their prices becoming more attractive. They breed exceptionally well under favourable conditions and over the next few years we expect their prices to drop even more.

 

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