Think of the South African national rugby team and the Springbok / Springbuck (Antidorca marsupialis) literally springs to mind. The emblem of that leaping antelope is synonymous with the green and gold and is proudly displayed on the shirts, jackets, blankets or beanies worn by loyal supporters of the team.
The Springbok also happens to be the national animal of South Africa. Its name is derived from the early Dutch, and later Afrikaans, description of this antelope’s ability to jump in a most magnificent fashion. While this is not commonly seen behaviour, and one would need to observe the animals for some time, the Springbok have the ability to walk stiff-legged for a few paces and then jump into the air with an arched back. Significantly, they lift a skin flap on their rump which reveals long white hairs underneath the tail.
This activity, known as pronking, is wonderful to behold. Pronking is an Afrikaans term for showing off and the aforementioned skin flap is responsible for the marsupialis in the scientific name of the Springbok. The animals do this both to ward off predators and when trying to attract a mate – truly showing off their prowess in that respect!
It is also wonderful to watch several of these animals leaping over low bushes and other obstacles in their path as they run from perceived danger. Apparently, they have been listed among the top ten fastest land animals in the world – over what distance, I cannot tell.
Springbok are easily recognised by their cinnamon upper bodies separated from their white underparts by a broad dark brown stripe running along their flanks. A thinner brown stripe colours their white heads and starts just above their eyes and ends at the upper lip. Their colouring and glossy coats make them a joy to see in the open veld – especially when the animals have gathered in a herd.
We saw large herds of Springbok in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where they frequented the dry river beds especially. They are well adapted to such harsh, dry conditions for they can get by without ready access to drinking water, getting enough moisture from the grass and various leaves that they eat. It is nonetheless magnificent seeing herds of them edging an open pan and being reflected in the water as they drink their fill.
More recently, we enjoyed seeing them in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock.
As a footnote, I am pleased to report that the Lesser Striped Swallows have resumed the laborious process of rebuilding their nest in the same spot as the other one that fell down (See THE HOUSE THE SWALLOWS BUILT).