The name of the animal was imported into English in the 18th century from isiXhosa iqhude, via Afrikaans koedoe part zebra part deer. Kudu, or koodoo, is the Khoikhoi name for this antelope. Tragos (Greek) denotes a he-goat and elaphos (Greek) a deer. Strepho (Greek) means "I twist", and strephis is "twisting". Keras (Greek) refers to the horn of the animal.
Lesser kudus come from the savanna near Acacia and Commiphora shrubs. They have to rely on thickets for protection, so they are rarely seen in the open. Their brown and striped pelts help to camouflage them in scrub environments.
Like many other antelope, male kudus can be found in bachelor groups, but they are more likely to be solitary. Their dominance displays tend not to last long and are generally fairly peaceful, consisting of one male making himself look big by making his hair stand on end. When males do have a face-off, they will lock their horns in a competition to determine the stronger puller; kudus' necks enlarge during the mating season for this reason. Sometimes two competing males are unable to unlock their horns and, if unable to disengage, will die of starvation or dehydration. Males are seen with females only in the mating season, when they join in groups of 5–15 kudus, including offspring. Calves grow very quickly and at six months are fairly independent of their mothers.
A pregnant female will leave the herd to give birth to a single offspring. She will leave the newborn lying hidden for 4–5 weeks while coming back only to nurse it, which is the longest amount of time for any antelope species. Then the calf will start meeting its mother for short periods. At 3 or 4 months, the calf will be with its mother constantly, and at about six months they will permanently join the group.
When threatened, the kudu will often run away rather than fight. Wounded bulls have been known to charge the attacker, hitting the attacker with their sturdy horn base rather than stabbing it. Wounded females can keep running for many miles without stopping to rest for more than a minute. They are great kickers and are capable of breaking a wild dog's or jackal's neck or back. They are good jumpers and can clear a 5-foot fence from a standing start.