The bontebok is a subspecies of the Damaliscus pygargus, a South African, Lesotho, and Namibian antelope. The bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus), which lives in the Fynbos and Renosterveld areas of the Western Cape, and the blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi), which lives in the Highveld, are two subspecies of D. pygargus.
Physical characteristics of the Bontebok
The Bontebok is a medium-sized antelope with a body shape similar to the Tsessebe and other hartebeests. The shoulder is higher than the rump, and they have long pointed heads with lyre-shaped horns.
The bontebok has a rich shiny dark brown body with darker flanks and upper limbs. The distinctive white blaze on their face is generally continuous, narrowing between the eyes (unlike the Blesbok, which is known as the same species but a separate subspecies). The limbs and rump of the animal are white. The ears are a shade of brown that is slightly lighter than the rest of the body.
The tail is white for about half of its length and dark brown for the rest, with long black hair on the tip. The horns of both sexes are black and ringed on the upper surface, with the ewe’s being slenderer than the ram.
Preorbital glands are present in both sexes but are more developed in males. They secrete a sticky secretion that causes tear marks on the animals’ faces. Territorial rams apply this secretion to grass stems and appear to transfer it from the grass to their horns.
The Beauty of the Bontebok
This graceful antelope has a compact body with a long, narrow face and a short, stout neck. Their rich brown coat with a purplish iridescent luster, extraordinary white face, white rump, white belly, and white feet that resemble socks set them apart from other antelope.
The white facial markings, which resemble a medieval knight’s helmet, are known as a danger mask. It aims to frighten predators. Both sexes have horns that are visible. They are angular and ringed and can reach a length of 18 inches. Females’ horns are significantly slenderer than males’ horns.
Habitat of the Bontebok
Historically, the Western Cape’s Bredasdorp and Mossel Bay areas were the only places where it was found. In the Western Cape, it is now protected on many reserves and private farms. Cape Fynbos coastal plain vegetation with grass, sun, and some shrub cover is its preferred habitat.
Behavior of the Bontebok
They are active during the day (diurnal), but their activity levels decrease as the day progresses. Bontebok herds are known for bowing their heads towards the sun during the heat of the day. Territorial males, female herds, and bachelor groups make up the social structure.
Territorial males establish and maintain a mosaic of territories, and they use displays to threaten intruders and demonstrate their dominance. Males seldom fight seriously, but they can participate in intense pushing contests in which they drop to their knees with their foreheads close to the ground and kick and feint at each other, sometimes clashing or locking horns.
These mostly ritualized encounters are usually brief, with the loser giving up and walking away. By courting females, males attempt to keep them within their territories. Female herds have a maximum of 8 animals, which are made up of females and their young.
Bachelor herds are much larger and looser groups of males of all ages, ranging from yearlings to old males. While they do pass through territorial male areas, they usually avoid any challenges and gravitate away from conflict.
Diet of the Bontebok
Bontebok are herbivores that eat a variety of short grasses and plants as part of their diet. They are diurnal grazers, which means they graze in the morning and evening and rest during the hotter parts of the day. Bontebok at the San Diego Zoo consumes a specialized pellet food intended for herbivores, as well as a large range of tree clippings known as browse.
Bontebok in the Wild
This bontebok is most active throughout the day and can be seen standing in groups with their heads lowered and facing the light. During the hottest part of the day, they also spend a large portion of the afternoon finding shade and shelter. They will drink at least once a day if water is available; however, they can go for several days without water.
When walking the savanna, bontebok has a lot to be worried about. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, caracals, and jackals are predators. When required, they can use their jagged horns to protect themselves from predators; however, they tend to simply run away to avoid confrontation.
Bontebok interacts by grunting and snorting, much like other antelope. They interact with other members of the herd using their distinct marks, and they have scent glands on their hind feet that they use to mark territory. Scrapes (patches of feces and urine) and secretions from pre-orbital scent glands just behind their eyes are other territorial marks.
Reproduction of the Bontebok
The gestation period lasts about 240 days. Bontebok lambs are born in September and October, with some being born as late as February. Usually, single lambs are born, but twins do occur occasionally.
The lambs are pale beige to cream in color when they are born and can run with their mother within 30 minutes. When the next offspring is born, young males leave their mothers after a year, but females stay with their mothers as members of the herd. 15-year life expectancy (in captivity)
Conservation of the Bontebok
The Western Cape and the fynbos biome are home to this subspecies. After near extinction, conservation efforts began in 1837 with a nucleus of 27 animals on a private farm. The first Bontebok National Park was established in 1931, but 84 bonteboks were relocated to a new and more suitable location near Swellendam in 1961.
- The conservation efforts of this species has been seen as a success, bringing the numbers world-wide from only 17 bontebok, to a current global total of approximately 3000.
- 200 live at Bontebok National Park. Their conservation status is vulnerable; they depend on effective protection and conservation to survive.
- Bonteboks can be viewed at the South African park: https://www.sanparks.org
- There are about 158 bontebok that can be seen on the fynbos plain.
Q & A About the Bontebok
What is the total number of bontebok?
The population of bonteboks is 3000 world wide.
Is there a place where I can see Bontebok?
Bontebok is now only present in South Africa’s protected areas. Visit the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga to see this antelope. They can be found in the Western Cape’s Bontebok National Park in Swellendam and Table Mountain National Park (in Cape Town and the area surrounding the city).
What is the distinction between a Bontebok and a blesbok?
Blesbok (shown above) is typically a lighter brown color. The bontebok (pictured above) is a darker brown with purple-black plum flanks, head, and upper legs. Another distinction is that the bontebok has black horns, whereas the blesbok’s horns are yellow-brown.
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