Written by: Blayne Selley
The first thing most people notice about Lowland Nyala is their striking red coat embellished with white stripes. Nyala’s stripes act as camouflage and are actually their best form of protection against predators like African painted dogs, hyenas, and leopards. These stripes mimic the sunlight peeking through the South African forests and riverbank thickets that nyala call home. Not only do the forests provide camouflage for nyala, but they also provide a balanced diet. Nyala are unique because they are both grazers and browsers, meaning they snack on both the grasses on the ground and the leaves, seeds, and fruits on the trees. Nyala can find food in a wide variety of locations and landscapes, making it easy for them to relocate and aiding in their year-round survival.
Another notable characteristic of nyala is their sexual dimorphism. This means that the males and females look completely different from one another. While the females display a beautiful copper-colored coat, the males feature a shaggy, gray coat and large spiral horns. The males are much larger than the females and are usually solitary, while the females stay in small herds. Both male and female nyala have large, bushy tails with a white underside. Nyala can flash this white underside of their tails as a warning sign to other members of their herd when danger is near. Nyala can also be heard communicating through vocalization that sounds very similar to a dog’s bark!
ZooTampa’s Africa section is home to a herd of six female and one male nyala. Recently, a new calf joined the herd – Miss Ohana! Ohana’s mom, Sahara, protects her by stashing her away in the bushes or low-lying trees, where she will spend most of her time for the first few weeks of her life. While it might be hard to spot Ohana for a while, the rest of the herd can be seen wandering around investigating new items, munching on leaves and grasses, and enjoying the shade of nearby trees.
Keep an eye out for these masters of disguise on your next visit to Africa! You can symbolically adopt a nyala here.