Cape grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis)

GenusRaphicerus (1)
SizeShoulder height: 54 cm (2)
Tail length: 5.5 cm (2)
Weight10 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1).

Despite being relatively common in parts of South Africa, the small and alert Cape grysbok is seldom seen (1). The coat of this elusive antelope is reddish brown, flecked with white hairs that give it a grizzled appearance (2) (3). Down the neck and flanks, the white hairs are less numerous and the underparts are a much lighter shade of brown (2). Large, pointed ears are positioned prominently on the black-tufted crown and the male has short, slightly curved horns. A subtle feature that distinguishes the Cape grysbok from the other small South African antelope is a pair of rudimentary ‘false hooves’ above and behind the hooves of the hindlegs (2) (3).

Endemic to South Africa, the Cape grysbok is widespread and locally common within coastal regions of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces (1) (3).

The Cape grysbok is almost entirely restricted to the dense scrub vegetation that comprises the fynbos biome. It is frequently found in belts of natural vegetation fringing agricultural areas such as vineyards and is known to enter into these areas to forage. Although this species does occur in the grasslands of the north-eastern Cape, it only does so where there is nearby cover in the form of forest fragments or clumps of bush (1) (2).

The Cape grysbok is mainly nocturnal and relies on an acute sense of smell, hearing and touch to navigate the dense bush safely and efficiently at night (3). During the day it rests, but is sometimes active in the early morning or late afternoon, if there is little disturbance (2) (3). Normally solitary, the Cape Grysbok is entirely dependant on its own cunning and is an expert in avoiding detection and evading danger. When under perceived threat, rather than running, it hides motionless in the vegetation and will not flee until the last moment (3) (4) (5). If chased, it will bolt in an erratic zigzag run that is extremely tricky for a pursuer to follow (5).

Although the Cape grysbok is predominately a browser, it will also graze on succulent grass and enter into plantations to feed on young shoots and fruit (1) (3). Remarkably, while this species will drink water when available, it does not require free water but derives all necessary hydration from its food (1) (3) (4).

Male Cape Grysbok will mark out well-defined territories in several ways including urinating and defecating in dung-piles, scraping the dung with their hooves, and marking stalks and grass stems with a scent produced by preorbital glands. Furthermore, rival males will fiercely defend a territory by actively fighting each other with their horns (3) (4). Although breeding can take place at any time during the year, most lambs are born between September and December following a gestation period of around seven months (4). Under good conditions a sexually mature female will give birth to two lambs a year, which are weaned after around 3 months (3) (4). Along with mating, this is the only other time that Cape grysbok are not solitary (2).

While the Cape grysbok has a relatively restricted range and there have been localised declines in its population due to habitat loss, there are currently no major threats to this species. It remains relatively common, and across most of its range the population is stable (1). Controversially however, one of the few areas its numbers are declining is the Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape where uncontrolled escalations in the elephant population has eliminated much of the dense vegetation favoured by the Cape grysbok (1) (6).

The Cape grysbok occurs within seven National Parks, numerous formal conservation areas, and is widely distributed on private land. As long as it continues to be protected within conservation areas and is well represented on private land, the conservation status of the Cape grysbok should not change (1).

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  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2011)