Location: Chelinda Camp, Nyika Plateau, Malawi
Date: April 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen
Roan antelope are a specialist species that are highly selective feeders. For this exact reason the roan has never been an abundant species, even though their numbers are today greatly reduced due to poaching and habitat degradation. They are generally not seen in large numbers anywhere and in fact are declining in many parts of their former wide range as a result of increased competition from other antelope species that are not as selective when it comes to feeding, and a variety of other factors.
Two exceptions to this are the Busanga Plains in Zambia's Kafue National Park and of course the plateau of the Nyika National Park in northern Malawi. Roan thrive in both these habitats and are easily seen in large herds on the open grasslands.
We of course know how selective roan are in terms of the grass species that they feed on but this selectiveness reached new heights as we watched a small herd feeding in the grassland on the edge of one of the dams in front of camp. As we watched, two of the cows in the herd actually waded into the water. We thought this was in order to gain better access to the grasses at the water's edge but as we continued to watch, one of the animals actually lowered its head and the bulk of its neck under the water until even the horns were almost completely submerged!
After a few seconds the cow emerged from the water and then jumped out onto the adjacent bank before wandering away with the herd. We imagine that she had been attempting to get at some underwater vegetation to eat - something that has been seen in species like bushpig - but it all remained a little unclear and the roan itself a little bedraggled after the event, looking rather forlorn with her long Eeyore-like ears.