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1. The Antelopes of Southern Africa- Enduring and Prolific, Though Underrated by Most
antelope family is one of the largest in the animal kingdom. Though
antelopes do not exude the sexy aura of the big five- lion, elephant,
and rhino; they are very successful and are fully paid up members of the
African wilderness. Some species are very prolific such as the impala,
of which an
estimated 100,000 can be found in South Africa's Kruger Park alone.
they are not immune to the human generated changes in
habitat underway in most of Africa. The roan and sable antelopes, for
example, are considered endangered in the limited ranges they are forced
to live in
today. The blue antelope, a close cousin of the roan vanished in the
eighteenth century, making it the first large mammal to go extinct in
On a daily basis, antelopes are preoccupied in negotiating life
alongside mortal enemies that include: man, cheetahs, jackals, lions,
hyenas, leopards and
Most people tend to underrate antelopes, in
comparison with other bigger or stronger animals. But the bushman who is
so well attuned
to the rhythms of the natural world has discerned subtle qualities in
the eland- the largest of Africa's antelopes. This animal has a special
place in his
spiritual life and he indeed believes it can connect him to God. It is
taken as an animal endowing peace, well-being, healing and prosperity.
The eland is
almost invariably represented in bushman rock art throughout southern
In Africa, antelopes come in up to 11 tribes and 75
Africa alone hosts 29 antelope species, more than anywhere else in
Africa. All antelopes are herbivores, hoofed and tend to chew the cud.
characteristic is the horns- carried by at least males of all species
and by females in 43 of the 75 African species. Horns consist of an
composed mainly of keratin over a bony core of the same shape, which
grows from the frontal bones.
Keratin, a tough horny substance,
is also the
main constituent of hooves, nails, claws, hair, scales, and feathers.
Horns emerge gently from an epidermal layer surrounding the bony core;
if broken or cut
off they do not regenerate. Horns are the God-given weapons through
which males of all species use to compete for dominance and reproductive
they are also present in females of at least 43 species in Africa. They
are however generally smaller and invariably thinner and weaker in
other male secondary sex characteristics, the horns' degree of
development reflects on the state of male competition.
And so it is that they are no more than simple spikes in the monogamous
duikers and dwarf antelopes. But they come huge and elaborate in the
polygamous species like impala, sable and kudu that have to fight
aggressively for an encounter with females that assures perpetuation of
Antelopes show a marked variation in size- ranging
from the 1.5 kg and 20cm high royal antelope to the 950 kg and 178cm
high eland. The
colour of their jackets range from off- white as for the Arabian oryx to
black in the black wildebeest, but most are dressed in shades of brown.
The eyes are
laterally placed with horizontally elongated pupils, which provide good
rear view. The females have a single or double pair of mammary glands.
terms of distribution, Africa is said to be the land of antelopes; only
two tribes of antelopes occur outside the continent. In this article we
shall look at
a few species derived from the more than 6 tribes that thrive in
Among the small antelopes, the common duiker
represents the duiker
tribe- technically known as cephalophini. They have long legs and flat
backs and relatively large eyes. The horns are upright and appear only
Duikers live in forest and dense bush, where they browse on leaves,
twigs, fruits, flowers and seeds. They sometimes spice their diet with
caterpillars and lizards. The adult duiker reaches only up to 20 kg.
This makes the duiker vulnerable to eagles- which otherwise are unable
to prey on the
The dwarf antelope's -which learned people
refer to as Neotragini, have about three species secluded in Southern
are the steenbok, the klipsringer and kirk's dik dik. The steenbok is a
small reddish antelope with big round ears, small tail and slender long
well-shaped hindquarters. They are well distributed in the whole of
Southern Africa -from south of Zambezi to southern Angola, and not
Kalahari along the major rivers.
The steenbok inhabits open
country, which includes grasslands and scattered bushlands. It feeds on
the leaves and
shoots of a wide variety of low shrub and trees, seeds and fruits; and
at a tender age can also feed on grass. Steenboks are territorial and
like most small
antelopes are largely monogamous. They are however more likely to be
found singly than in pairs. They are largely nocturnal and spend most of
the day under
The Kirk's dik dik is another arid antelope. It has
a pointed and mobile snout and hairy muffle with slit like nostrils,
and prominent erectile crest. They weigh an average of 5-6 kg and the
horns are ridged and slant backwards. They live in a variety of
there is good cover, but generally avoid tall grass that may obstruct
their view. They feed mostly on the leaves, shoots and fruits of most
The dik dik's extremely narrow muzzle and incisor
row, combined with their small body size enables them to select small
They greatly benefit from disturbances caused by larger animals like
elephant and giraffe, which may drop off branchlets from the top of
trees. They are
territorial, and live in closely associated monogamous pairs.
Klipspringer, another variety of small antelope lives on rocky areas
Their hooves are well adapted to steep and rocky terrain -a refuge from
predators and food source. They weigh up to 14kg and are well built with
hindquarters. They are well distributed in the Eastern Africa right down
to the tip of South Africa.
Due to their unique habitat,
a niche diet of shrubs and the succulent plants that grow in rocky
areas. They will also tuck in to leaves, new shoots, berries and fruits.
antelopes, they are territorial and live in closely associated pairs.
Territory size depends on rainfall and food distribution.
gazelles are one
of the largest antelope tribes with up to 19 species. This tribe enjoys
the widest distribution, ranging from South Africa, across Asia, Siberia
They are slender medium sized antelopes built for speed, with long,
evenly developed limbs, a level back and long neck. Both sexes except in
a few species
like the gerenuk have horns-, which are strongly ridged and S-shaped.
Springbok is the gazelle's principal representative in Southern Africa,
where it is found in most parks in the region. They have a distinctive
dorsal skin fold containing erectile white hair. They are mostly
associated with their
joyous jumping displays, especially in celebration of the rains.
Springboks are prolific sprinters and can reach speeds of up to 80 km/h.
The springbok is
well honoured in South Africa, and it is indeed the national symbol. The
South African national rugby team is proudly named after this agile
The springbok has a considerable habitat tolerance and
is the most abundant plain antelope in the arid lands of southern
it hardly thrives in mountains and rocky hills and avoids woodlands and
tall, dense vegetation. It is a mixed feeder -in the sense of being both
a grazer and
a browser. It grazes on long tender grasses and browses on low shrubs
and succulents. They average 40 kg in body weight though some reaching a
mass of 59 kg
are on record in Namibia.
Another antelope tribe of Southern
Africa is the reduncini, of which members are reedbucks, kob and
reedbuck is the most common in the region, especially the mountain
reedbuck and common reedbuck. The reduncini is a close-knit tribe with
only 2 genera and
about 8 species -of which 6 are geographically paired. Thus the
waterbuck, lechwe and kob are so genetically close that in captivity
they interbreed and
produce viable hybrids.
Reedbucks are medium sized and have a
yellow-to-grey-to-brown coat with a round bare spot below each ear,
and bushy tail. The horns are found in males only and have a forward
facing hook design. Reedbucks fall between solitary and gregarious
systems. The common reedbuck lives in monogamous pairs whereas the
mountain reedbuck gathers in small herds of an average of 6 animals.
southern Africa antelope in this tribe is the rhebok. This medium-sized
animal has a long neck, bulbous nose, long narrow years and upright
spike like horns,
which are found only in males. They exhibit short, rabbit like fur with
varying shades of grey and legs with a dark stripe on the lower front
sides. They are
found only in South Africa and typically occur in grassland habitats
extending to the coastal belt of the Cape region up to almost sea level.
rhebok inhabits grasslands and scrub savannah and is a mixed feeder that
stays on the higher slopes during the rains and moves to the lower
grasslands when it dries out. They are gregarious and territorial and
herds consist of 1- 15 females and young ones and a single adult male.
voluntarily remain in a harem within a single territory, giving chosen
males an exclusive family group.
The other key antelope tribe is
antelope, technically known as hippotragini. These are usually large
antelopes with horse-like body formation. Their leading representative
Africa is the oryx- a large level-backed antelope with short neck, deep
chest and long limbs. The males are heavier than females and have
thicker necks and
The oryx is the most perfectly desert-adapted large
mammal, and is capable of living in waterless habitats. Only very few
animals survive in such habitats. The African species include the Beisa
oryx, mostly found in northern East Africa; the Fringe-eared oryx of
Africa and the Gemsbok, exclusively found in southern Kalahari.
Nyala is another unique species whose distribution is confined to
Africa. It belongs to the antelope tribe called tragelaphines, which
includes the bushbuck, kudu and eland. They have spiral horns with
vertical stripes and
the males are markedly different from females in body form and
structure. The males are far larger than females- reaching up to 114 kg,
while females can
only attain 58 kg.
The Nyala's preferred habitat is riverside
thickets, dense brush and the fringes of forest. They are almost
entirely confined to
the Lowveld of the southern savannah closely corresponding to the area
of the Mozambique coastal plain. The most popular places to see them are
Reserve and Kruger National Park.
The kudu is especially noted
for its spectacular spiral horns, which give the animal a rather solid
the greater kudu, horns can reach a length of 72 inches. In parts of
southern Africa, the horns are used as musical instruments and symbolic
If you see the kudu's horns, you will understand why some cultures take
them as a symbol of male potency.
The eland is the largest of
antelopes. They can rise to 178 cm at the shoulder, and a really hefty
one can reach 950 kg. Both male and female carry horns- the males can
impressive 50 inches. They can live in semi desert, miombo woodlands,
grasslands, and acacia savannah.
The hartebeest is another
found in southern Africa. Among antelopes, it is one of the fastest and
most resilient runners. This gift comes in very handy, as it is rather
therefore easy to hunt. The hartebeest is relatively large, and a full
grown adult reaches 160 kg. They thrive in open plains, and medium to
Females live in a limited home range in small groups of between 5 and 12
members; most mature males are solitary. The wildebeest and topi are
similar in many
ways to the hartebeest.
Your best bet of seeing most of the antelopes of Southern Africa is by taking a South
Africa safari. On such a safari, you will of course also see the
other more celebrated wildlife, which includes the big five. When
traveling, remember to
pack a pair of binoculars- they bring the animals closer without the
usual risks. A pair of decent sunglasses is a good idea, especially if
you travel to the
Kalahari, where the glare can be somewhat unsettling.
photographic and video equipment to record your safari for the sake of
those of your
unlucky friends who may not have traveled to southern Africa. On safari,
you are advised not to wear white or bright clothing to avoid exciting
Light cottons and linens are adequate for summer.
To survive winter mornings and evenings, you need warmer wraps and sweaters. Women should avoid
wearing scanty beachwear in rural areas, away from hotels and campsites to avoid offending locals.
Help and More Information for Southern Africa!
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