Antelope of the Lebombo Concession, part 2 – diminutive or dwarf antelope

Kruger National Park · December 2016
By Brian Rode
Field Guide

In our concession we find four diminutive / dwarf antelopes. These are:

  • Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris)
  • Sharpe’s grysbok (Raphicerus sharpei)
  • Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus)
  • Common / Grey / Bush / Grimm’s duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia)

These are all very small, cute antelope and when guests initially see them they tend to think that they are baby antelope.

The steenbok and the Sharpe’s grysbok both fall into the tribe of antelope known as the Neotragini tribe. These are both small antelope (the maximum weight of a steenbok has been recorded as 13 kg and the Sharpe’s grysbok as 9 kg) and are reddish-brown in colour. Grysbok have white flecks in amongst the reddish hairs and therefore have a more grizzled appearance than steenbok (the word grys is an Afrikaans word meaning grey or grizzled and refers to the white flecks of hair). Steenbok can be further differentiated from Sharpe’s grysbok by having a white belly and a straighter back (the back of a grysbok tends to be more rounded). In both species, only the males have horns (the record length for a steenbok’s horns is 19 cm, and that of a Sharpe’s grysbok is 10 cm).

The name ‘steenbok’ comes from Afrikaans, meaning stone antelope, and it is likely that it was so-named because of its habit of lying flat and motionless, often with ears flattened, particularly when it sees a predator and therefore it looks very much like a rock. The species name campestris comes from the Latin word ‘campus’, meaning an open grassland or plains. Literally, they are therefore ‘the small antelope of the African plains’. Steenbok tend to be seen singly, but are known to form monogamous pairs. They are highly territorial and are one of the few antelopes that bury their droppings (like a cat they scrape sand over the dung after depositing it), supposedly to minimize the possibility that predators may track them down after finding the droppings. They tend to live in open, scrubby vegetation and are widespread throughout southern Africa. They are selective browsers feeding mainly on forbs and other leafy vegetation.

Sharpe’s grysbok are very similar in appearance to steenbok. They are slightly smaller and tend to occur more in rocky habitats, particularly in the foothills of rocky ridges. This is an antelope that is quite shy and is not often seen. There are not many game lodges where one has the chance to see these beautiful, tiny, secretive antelopes. We are very lucky to see these elusive antelopes regularly in the Lebombo Concession. Sharpe’s grysbok was named after Sir Arthur Sharpe who described the species from the first recorded specimen collected in Malawi. Sharpe’s grysbok are browsers that feed predominantly on forbs and the leaves of small bushes. They tend to occur singly, but are thought to form monogamous pairs. They are highly territorial and mark their areas with dung middens and by rubbing secretions from their preorbital glands on prominent branches.

The Klipspringer also falls within the tribe of antelopes known as the Neotragini tribe (dwarf antelopes), although some scientists believe it is different enough to form its own tribe (Oreotragini). They are small antelopes with a maximum mass of up to 10 kg. The name Klipspringer come from the Afrikaans words ‘Klip’ (meaning rock) and ‘Springer’ (meaning jumper). The English translation is therefore ‘rock-jumper’. The scientific name is derived from the Greek words ‘Oros’ (meaning a mountain) and ‘tragos’ (a he-goat). Klipspringers are small, golden coloured antelope that have a rupicolous life-style (live on or amongst rocks). They are specifically adapted to their rocky environment. They have relatively short legs and therefore their centre of gravity is lower than most other antelope. This helps them in maintaining balance on high cliff ledges. Their hooves are also very small, so that they can grip onto even the smallest footholds. Their fur is hollow, which not only insulates them from extreme temperatures (which often occur near the tops of mountains), but also cushions them in case they bump against rocks or take a fall. They are sexually dimorphic and only the males have horns. The record horn length for a klipspringer is 16 cm and the horns stand straight upright. They are highly territorial and mark their territories by defecating in middens (toilets) and by rubbing their preorbital glands on prominent branches thereby leaving a sticky, smelly substance on the branch. They form monogamous pairs. They are browsers and feed predominantly on
forbs and the leaves of small bushes.

Although there are at least 22 species of duiker found in Africa only one occurs in the Lebombo area i.e. the common / grey / bush / Grimm’s duiker. Two other duikers are found in South Africa viz. the Natal red duiker and the blue duiker, although both occur predominantly in the forested areas near the east coast. Natal red duikers were reintroduced to the Kruger Park, but are very rare and are generally only seen in the thicker vegetation near the hills of Pretoriuskop Camp, near the southern part of the Kruger Park. Duikers are generally forest specialists, although the common duiker is an exception in that it prefers savanna woodland.

The tribe’s name ‘Cephalophini’ comes from the combination of the Latin word cephal, meaning head, and the Greek word lophos, meaning crest. This name is derived from the fact that most duikers have an obvious crest of hair on the top of their heads. The common name ‘duiker’ comes from the Afrikaans word duik (which means ‘to dive’), and refers to way that duikers frequently dive into vegetation for cover, when alarmed. The genus name ‘Sylvicapra’ is derived from the Latin words ‘Silva’ (which means a wood or a forest) and ‘capra’ (meaning a she-goat). The species name ‘grimmia’ comes from a German scientist named Dr. Hermann Nicolas Grimm, who originally described the duiker.

The common duiker is a small antelope that can attain a maximum weight of 21 kg. They are generally grey in colour (although they may appear reddish in northern Botswana and Angola) and have longer legs than most other duiker species (because they do not live in forests). They are sexually dimorphic and only the males have straight, upright horns. The record length of the horns of a duiker measured 18 cm. Duikers tend to have large preorbital glands, in a shape of a slit, which they rub on the ends of branches to leave a sticky gum-like substance which acts as a territorial marker. They are generally browsers although they will also feed on fruit, leaves, flowers and even, on occasion carrion or small vertebrates and invertebrates. They are generally solitary in nature and prefer areas where there are thickets in which they can hide when approached. They are generally shy antelope. They do not have a set birthing season and a single lamb is born after a gestation period of 6 and a half months.

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