Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)

Also known as: springbuck
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusAntidorcas (1)
SizeMale weight: 50 kg (2)
Female weight: 37 kg (2)

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

Roaming the central plains of southern Africa is the slender springbok, the National Animal of South Africa (3). Within the last 100 years springbok numbers have greatly declined (3), but older Southern Africans still remember a time when springbok herds were so large they took several days to pass their farms (4). Its striking body colouring distinguishes it from other antelopes; cinnamon-brown upperparts and white underparts, separated by a dark reddish-brown band that runs horizontally from the foreleg to the hindleg (3) (5). A crest of white hairs runs along the back of the springbok; these are normally hidden beneath two folds of scent-secreting skin, but can be seen when the white hairs are erected in alarm (3) (5). The head is white with a dark streak through each eye to the corner of the mouth, and the ears are long, narrow and pointed (3). Both male and female springbok have beautiful heavily-ridged lyre-shaped horns (3), although those of the female are much more slender (6).

Occurs in southern Africa, from south-western Angola, through Namibia, central and south-western Botswana to the western parts of South Africa (2).

Springboks inhabit dry, open plains; from deserts to savannahs and shrublands, and from sea level up to South Africa’s Highveld plateau area (3) (5). It prefers areas of short grasses and avoids tall grass, woodland and other areas where vegetation restricts movement and visibility (3).

The springbok has many adaptations to enable a successful existence in the harsh and unpredictable environment of Africa’s arid south-west. They are opportunists, in both their feeding and breeding behaviour (2). During the hot, rainy summers springbok primarily graze on grasses and turn to browsing on shrubs in the colder and drier winters (3). They are also fond of feeding on flowers when available, and when water is scarce springbok seek out moisture-rich roots, tubers and succulent foliage (2). Springbok will drink water whenever it is available, but also maintain their water balance by feeding at night, when the rise in humidity increases the water content of vegetation (3).

Springboks are opportunistic breeders and can breed year-round, often synchronising the birth of their young with periods of high rainfall when there is an abundance of green grass shoots to feed on. Normally a single lamb is born (3), after a 25 week gestation (2), and is initially left hiding in a protected place, such as a bush, whilst the mother grazes away from her offspring. Their time apart gradually becomes less, and by three to four weeks of age, the lamb begins to spend most their time with maternal herd. Lambs are weaned at five to six months (3).

Females may remain within the maternal herd indefinitely, whilst young males leave the herd at 6 to 12 months to join a bachelor herd, and reach sexual maturity by the age of two (3). However, to be able to breed a male must hold a territory, and defend an area that hopefully contains resources attractive to females (2). During the rut those males with the most attractive territories will mate with the most females (2), and many fights occur during over territories during the rutting period. The ringed horns are effective fighting weapons, although they can become locked together during a fight, resulting in the death of one or both of the participants (3).

Springboks are renowned for their pronking, or stotting, behaviour. This comprises several consecutive stiff-legged jumps, up to two meters high, with the back arched and the white crest of hair raised (3). Pronking may have several functions. It is a common response to predators; those that jump higher or at a faster rate, are fitter and faster, a fact the predator should recognise and so pick out a weaker victim (2). It is also for purposes of orientation, as the springbok can take in their physical surroundings, and the position of predators and other springboks (5). There is also a social role; the fold of skin on the back produces a secretion with a strong, sweet odour that can be released while pronking (3), and thus sends out visual and olfactory messages to other springbok (5).

The springbok has disappeared from many parts of South Africa within the last 100 years, and most are now confined to fenced farmland or game reserves (3) (6). Ranching of springbok for their lean meat has been common since the early 1900s, and their skin is also utilized. Mixed herds of springbok and merino sheep (Ovis aries) are common farming combinations in the Karoo (3). Thus, whilst the springbok is not yet threatened, populations are increasingly reliant on continued demand for their products, as an incentive for humans to keep them on their land and ensure population numbers remain healthy. In parts of Namibia and in the Kalahari springbok continue to roam freely, but their movements are increasingly constrained by the construction of fences (6).

The IUCN does not consider the adaptable springbok to be threatened (1), although it is somewhat dependent on the continued management of the many farms and game reserves in which it occurs.

For further information on the springbok see:

Authenticated (25/02/08) by Dr. David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Mills, G. and Hes, L. (1997) The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  3. Cain, J.W., Krausman, P.R. and Germaine, H.L. (2004) Antidorcas marsupialis. Mammalian Species, 753: 1 - 7.
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego.
  6. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.