Friday, May 23, 2008

Restricted Antelopes

Amongst South Africa's magnificent "selection" of antelopes, some are confined to a specific habitat.

The largest of the African antelopes, the eland, is restricted to it's preferred habitat varying from semi-desert regions to light woodland. The eland is a protected species in the Drakensberg region and numerous nature reserves in the country. They are browsers (> grazers) and therefore feed on leaves, fruit, roots and bulbs. However heavy and humped its appearance, an eland is surprisingly agile - it can jump a 2m high fence!

Did you know that the San believed that the eland was filled with spiritual power? By painting eland on rocks (after human figures the most commonly painted object) the San artists believed that they "harnessed" that power.

The second largest antelope in South Africa is the roan. Mpumalanga represents the only region where roan antelopes are found in their natural state. Since roan are so rare, many private game reserves stock them as special attractions.

Trivia: "roan" describes the body colouring - brownish grey tinged with red. The roan is thought to have horse-like features (= Pferde Antelope in German). When attacked by a predator, the roan lashes out with its hooves and heavily ridged horns whilst baring its teeth in a horse-like manner.

Slightly smaller than its close relative (the roan), the sable antelope carries a larger pair of horns, which are also heavily ridged, sweeping back in an even curve - this antelope's often deadly "weapon". The sable antelope is only naturally found in the northern and eastern parts of our country.

The gemsbok (or Oryx gazelle), with its high, "V-for-victory" horns, is restricted in South Africa to the dry northern Cape, where they are mainly found in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (versus being fairly common in Namibia). Gemsbok are able to survive in high-temperature areas without a regular supply of drinking water, because an intricate assortment of body mechanisms e.g. cools down their blood.

Generally, the red hartebeest also inhabits the drier territories of the northern parts of our country, although I snapped these (right) in the Addo Elephant Park (Eastern Cape). Hartebeest have goat-like eyes, set in an elongated face, and they also have heavily ridged horns, which at the tips, curve sharply backwards. Although not ranked amongst the most attractive antelopes, the hartebeest is impressive when in motion - it can reach a speed of 55km whilst galloping in a zigzagging fashion. [Its close relative, the tsessebe, is known as the fastest of all antelope].

Not so long ago, bontebok were in danger of extinction. Now they are off the danger list (thanks to an enterprising conservation program), but still they are only (naturally) found in a restricted area of the south-western Cape, which includes the Bontebok National Park (near Swellendam). [Bontebok are closely related to the more commonly found blesbok].

Although the small and handsome steenbok is South Africa's most widely distributed antelope, it's the "target" of more numerous predators than e.g. the larger antelopes. To add to the "pressure", steenbok are usually found singly (versus finding relative safety in numbers/a herd).

Trivia: The Dutch/Afrikaans word "steenbok" (= mountain goat) is a misnomer, because this antelope prefers grassland (= shuns rocky, mountainous areas).

The grysbok is an exclusively South African species. Although its name indicates that this antelope is supposed to be grey, the grysbok is actually reddish brown but - the coat is covered with fine white hair that give it a greyish tinge (as is clearly visible in my photo). This little antelope is restricted to a habitat of thick fynbos (Cape Flora) and scrub, found only along the coastal regions of the southern Cape.

1 comment:

Phivos Nicolaides said...

I really like your blog. It's fascinating.