Tragelaphus spekii 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Bovidae

Scientific Name: Tragelaphus spekii Speke, 1863
Common Name(s):
English Sitatunga, Marshbuck
French Guib d'Eau, Sitatunga

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-06-14
Assessor(s): IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group
Reviewer(s): Hoffmann, M.
Total population numbers have been estimated at 170,000 (perhaps an overestimate), of which 40% occur in and around protected areas. It is now rare and localized in West Africa, and widespread and locally common in Central Africa and some parts of Central, East and southern Africa. Numbers are considered to be generally declining except in some core areas, but the extent of this decline overall is estimated to remain below 20% over 14 years (three generations). Given continuing habitat degradation and intensive meat hunting in parts of its range, if present trends continue, the Sitatunga may disappear from many areas where it still occurs and viable populations will eventually be largely restricted to those regions which currently support substantial, stable or increasing populations.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Sitatunga probably occurred formerly alongside waterways throughout the lowland forest zone of West and Central Africa, extending into swamp systems in the savanna zones of Central, East and southern Africa. It is now rare and localized in West Africa, with a very small range in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. It may have once occurred more widely in this part of West Africa. It remains widespread elsewhere, from southern Ghana and Benin through the Congo Basin forests and in swamp systems within the savannas of Central, East and southern Africa as far as the Okavango. Long extinct in Niger and probably now also in Togo, but have been confirmed as still surviving in Ghana (May and Lindholm 2013).
Countries occurrence:
Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Mozambique; Namibia; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Possibly extinct:
Regionally extinct:
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The cryptic nature of Sitatunga and the relative inaccessibility of their habitat makes reliable estimates of abundance difficult. Aerial surveys tend to grossly underestimate this species’ numbers (East 1999). Densities of up to 64/km² in Akagera N.P. (Rwanda) and 60/km² in the Busanga Swamps (Zambia) have been recorded (May and Lindholm 2013, and see discussion therein). East (1999) estimated a total population of 170,000, but this is likely to be an overestimate (May and Lindholm 2013). Its numbers are probably decreasing in densely settled areas but stable elsewhere.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:90000-120000
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Sitatunga occur in tall and dense vegetation of perennial and seasonal swamps, marshy clearings within forests, riverine thickets, and mangrove swamps. In savanna environments, they are typically found in extensive monospecific stands of papyrus Cyperus papyrus and the reeds Phragmites spp. and Echinochloa pyramidalis (May and Lindholm 2013). Sitatunga usually avoid open water devoid of vegetation. They are selective mixed feeders taking a range of grasses, sedges and browse (May and Lindholm 2013). Sitatunga coexist with the Nile Lechwe in the Sudd of South Sudan, and with Southern Lechwe in Zambia, Botswana, and Angola.
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater
Generation Length (years):4.6

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hunting has probably not had a significant effect in the past because of the inaccessibility of their habitat, but with fragmentation of swamps, increasing human population and modern technology this is changing (May and Lindholm 2013). Hunting for bushmeat throughout West Africa is now a major threat (J. Mason pers. comm. in May and Lindholm 2013). In some areas, sustainable trophy hunting is an economically important form of utilization of this species, for example, in northern Botswana, which has produced some of Africa’s largest Sitatunga trophies.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Loss of habitat is the main threat to the future persistence of Sitatunga. The ever-increasing loss of wetlands throughout their range has cut off former routes of dispersal and many populations are becoming isolated. Sitatunga are vulnerable to long-term changes in water level because it alters vegetation structure, which in turn largely determines their distribution and abundance. Habitat fragmentation, and both lower and higher water levels make them more vulnerable to predation and meat hunting in many parts of its range (May and Lindholm 2013). Swamps are also extremely vulnerable to fire; vast areas of Bangweulu and Busanga are burnt each year (May and Lindholm 2013). Nonetheless, the Sitatunga shows a remarkable ability to survive near human habitation, provided suitable habitat remains.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: About 40% of the population survives in and around protected areas (East 1999), with major, generally stable populations occurring in Dja and Lobeke (Cameroon), Bangassou (Central African Republic), Odzala N.P. and L. Tele-Likouala (Republic of Congo), Salongo N.P. (DR Congo), Bangweulu and Busanga Swamps (Zambia), Okavango Delta (Botswana), and Akagera N.P. (Rwanda) (East 1999, May and Lindholm 2013). At present, only a few of these areas receive moderate-high levels of protection and management. The current survival of good Sitatunga populations in other areas, such as Lobeke, Bangweulu and Okavango, is a product of low human population densities rather than active conservation (East 1999).

The large areas of swamp within the Okavango Delta currently provide the Sitatunga with a safe refuge (from hunting in particular) to persist in. They should continue to do so, as long as the ecology of the Delta is not altered significantly by factors such as cattle grazing within the swampland, uncontrolled burning, overhunting and hydrological schemes that would affect the water levels in the perennial or seasonal swamps. Moremi Game Reserve contains a limited area of permanent swamp with moderate numbers of Sitatunga, but proposals to incorporate the Xo Flats within this reserve would significantly increase the protected population of this antelope (East 1999). The species’ significance as a trophy animal is an important economic incentive for the conservation of its habitat, and hunting zones adjoining national parks and equivalent reserves have the potential to play an increasingly important role in the conservation of the Sitatunga (East 1999).

Errata [top]

Errata reason: This errata assessment has been created because the map was accidentally left out of the version published previously.

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.8. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Swamp
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
2. Savanna -> 2.1. Savanna - Dry
suitability:Marginal season:resident 
3. Shrubland -> 3.6. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Moist
suitability:Marginal season:resident 
4. Grassland -> 4.6. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Seasonally Wet/Flooded
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.3. Wetlands (inland) - Shrub Dominated Wetlands
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.4. Wetlands (inland) - Bogs, Marshes, Swamps, Fens, Peatlands
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.7. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Marshes/Pools (under 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.8. Wetlands (inland) - Seasonal/Intermittent Freshwater Marshes/Pools (under 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Percentage of population protected by PAs (0-100):31-40
In-Place Species Management
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.1. Nomadic grazing
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 5 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 5 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.1. Fire & fire suppression -> 7.1.3. Trend Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Causing/Could cause fluctuations ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 6 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.8. Abstraction of ground water (unknown use)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Causing/Could cause fluctuations ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 6 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

East, R. (compiler). 1999. African Antelope Database 1998. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. Available at: (Accessed: 07 December 2016).

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. Available at: (Accessed: 27 April 2017).

May, J. and Lindholm, R. 2013. Tragelaphus spekii. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa. VI. Pigs, Hippopotamuses, Chevrotain, Giraffes, Deer, and Bovids, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK.

Citation: IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group. 2016. Tragelaphus spekii. In: (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22050A115164901. . Downloaded on 24 February 2018.
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