They are gregarious, and are found in small herds up to about 12 animals, although larger groups may aggregate in summer when grazing is more plentiful. The social organization consists of territorial males with breeding females, nursery herds and bachelor herds. The dominant male uses a definitive brand of body language to warn off other intruding males, including the ‘proud’ posture in which the bull stands very still and erect, holding his head and curved horns rigidly aloft. Waterbuck eat grasses, reeds and wildfruits, and in the dry season will browse on acacia.
They are roughage feeders, and are well-adapted to digest fibre. A single calf is born, usually in early or late summer. The calf finds its own hiding place in tall grass, and the female returns to suckle and clean it. At 3 – 4 weeks old the calf is able to follow its mother.
As their name suggests, Waterbuck are especially abundant near water. They are large antelope with a very conspicuous white circle around the rump. They have a characteristic, turpentine-like scent, secreted by glands on the skin, that is reputed to repel even crocodiles: when threatened, this handsome antelope will plunge unflinchingly into crocodile-infested water. A waterbuck may head for water, plunge in up to its nostrils, and do an about-turn, facing its pursuers with its magnificent, thrusting horns. These horns – found only on the males – are used with chilling effect during fights over females.