The bongo is the largest and heaviest forest antelope. Both males and females have spiraled lyre-shaped horns.
The large ears are believed to sharpen hearing, and the distinctive coloration may help bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats. Bongos have no special secretion glands and so rely less on scent to find one another than do other similar antelopes.
Both males and females have spiraled lyre-shaped horns that resemble those of the related antelope species of nyalas, sitatungas, bushbucks, kudus and elands. They have a hunched posture, with the head held up and the horns extended along the back.
Bongos are found in rain forest with dense undergrowth. Specifically they are found in the Lowland Rain Forest of West Africa and the Congo Basin to the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan.
As young males mature, they leave their maternal groups. Adult males of similar size or age seem to try to avoid one another, but occasionally they will meet and spar with their horns in a ritualized manner. Sometimes serious fights will take place, but they are usually discouraged by visual displays, in which the males bulge their necks, roll their eyes and hold their horns in a vertical position while slowly pacing back and forth in front of the other male. Younger mature males most often remain solitary, although they sometimes join up with an older male. They seek out females only at mating time; when they are with a herd of females, males do not coerce them or try to restrict their movements as do some other antelopes.
Although bongos are mostly nocturnal, they are occasionally active during the day. They are timid and easily frightened. They will move away after a scare, running at considerable speed, even through dense undergrowth. They seek cover, where they stand very still and alert, facing away from the disturbance and turning their heads from time to time to check on the situation. The bongo’s hindquarters are less conspicuous than the forequarters, and from this position the animal can quickly flee.
When in distress the bongo emits a bleat. It uses a limited number of vocalizations, mostly grunts and snorts. The females have a weak, mooing contact call for their young.
Females prefer to use traditional calving grounds restricted to certain areas. The newborn calf lies out in hiding for a week or more, receiving short visits by the mother to suckle it. The calves grow rapidly and can soon accompany their mothers in the nursery herds. Their horns also grow rapidly and begin to show in 31/2 months.
Bongos are mostly nocturnal. Male bongos are solitary, seeking out females only during mating season. Females and young form nursery herds. Timid and easily frightened, bongos will move away after a scare, running at considerable speed, even through dense undergrowth. The bongo’s hindquarters are less conspicuous than the forequarters, and from this position the animal can quickly flee if needed.
Hunting has eliminated bongos in some areas. In the past taboos may have helped bongos survive, but that is no longer the case.
Bongos are shy animals. They often are solitary, but sometimes accompany one another in pairs.
Females and their young form small groups.