Bongo antelope are characterized by their bright, auburn coat lined with 10-15 white, vertical stripes, believed to be used in identification and camouflage in dark undergrowth habitats. Their faces are marked with a white band running from cheek to cheek across the snout and a dark brown/mahogany muzzle. White streaks may also be seen just above the jawline, on the throat and on the front and inside forelegs.
Bongos have a ridge of spiked hair, running the length of their spine. In young, this hair may appear longer and more pronounced. Thick lyre-shaped horns grow upward and spiral slightly, often with ivory tips. Both males and females have horns. Adult males sport longer, thicker horns and a much darker, almost chocolate, coat. Horn lengths span from 21" to 40", with lengths over 27" being above average. Males will weigh from 530 to 660 lbs and up to 900 lbs. Females weigh, on average, 530 lbs.
Males are often solitary and females and young usually form groups of 6-8 individuals. Unlike most antelope species, bongos have no special secretion glands, therefore rely very little on scent. They do, however, rely heavily on sight and sound in identification of other bongos and predators. They use an array of vocalizations to communicate including snorts, grunts, moos and bleat-like alarm calls. In order to navigate dense vegetation, bongos will tilt their heads back, laying there horns on their backs. This sometimes results in rubbing “bald” spots that can become visible on the back of older bongos.
Like most ungulates, bongos are herbivorous browsers. Their diets include leaves, grasses, shrubs, vines, roots, fruits, and even bark of rotting trees. Bongos require salt in their diet, and are known to regularly visit natural salt licks. There have been reports of animals consuming burned wood after lightning storms. This behavior is believed to be a means of maintaining salt and minerals levels. They have long prehensile tongues that allow them to grasp vegetation while feeding. Bongos require habitat with a permanent water source.
Peak breeding takes place from October to January in native environments. They have a gestation period of 9 months; giving birth to 1 calf. Birthing usually occurs between June and September. After birth, calves are abandoned in dense undergrowth as a tactic to avoid attention from predators. Mothers return periodically to the young.