For many years a family of klipspringers has made Nungubane their home, probably because within the camp they feel safer from the leopards that prey on them.
Klipspringers are a small, sturdy antelope, native to eastern and southern Africa. Their name, which is Afrikaans, means “rock jumper” in English.
They are unusual among antelopes in a number of ways. When they mate, they bond for a very long time, often for life. And not only do they remain as a pair, they typically stay physically close together most of the time, usually within some 5 metres of each other. So if you are on a game drive in Welgevonden and you spot a klipspringer, look again, because if it is one of a pair, its mate will almost certainly be close by.
Their name is apt, because they are superb rock jumpers, and the outcrops of red sandstone rocks that are a feature of the Welgevonden landscape provide an ideal habitat for them. They are a perfect example of adaptive evolution. Their hooves have evolved in a unique way that enables them to walk and jump on the very tips of their hooves. This means that their hooves become cylindrical as they grow, and in turn that unique form gives them exceptional grip on rocky surfaces. You can see the remarkable adaptation if you look at the hooves of the female in the photograph.
Klipspringers also have a coat that is unusual among antelopes. It is thick and coarse, and the individual hairs are hollow and brittle. These characteristics provide insulation from extremes of heat and cold, thereby increasing the klipspringer’s distribution range, and they also cushion the klipspringer against abrasion from rocks. Early settlers in Africa, travelling constantly on horseback, stuffed their saddles with klipspringer coats to make them more comfortable.
Klipspringers are very territorial, and their territories are relatively small. They define their territory by marking plants near the perimeter of the territory with a thick black substance. It is secreted from a gland, known as a preorbital gland, located just in front of their eyes. As a pair move about their territory, one feeds while the other keeps watch for predators. Males spend more time on lookout than females, thereby allowing females time to eat more, which is probably beneficial for reproduction. Females are usually heavier than males. At a sign of danger, the watching klipspringer emits a shrill whistle. Although klipspringers often stand in prominent positions on top of rocks, their coat colour provides excellent camouflage, making them difficult for predators to detect.
Here is a wonderful description of a klipspringer, written about a century ago by Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton, the legendary first warden of Kruger National Park:
“Often, as the wayfarer passes beneath some towering crag, he may notice silhouetted against the skyline, hundreds of feet above his head, a compact little form, the ears inquisitively cocked, and the nose extended in his direction. As he lingers to obtain a better view he sees the animal, by a springy and apparently effortless leap, clear some yawning chasm, and bound with an easy nonchalance up a slope which a man upon hands and knees could with difficulty tackle….When surprised in the open, as if conscious of his deficiency in the matter of pace, he makes at once for his beloved rocks”.
WORDS AND IMAGE: IAN FINLAY
- Personal observation, Nungubane Lodge, Welgevonden Game Reserve, and other reserves.
- The Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
- Norton, P.M. (2011), The habitat and feeding ecology of the klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus in two areas of the Cape Province.