Springbok

Antidorcas marsupialis

TAXONOMY

Antílope marsupialus (Zimmermann, 1780), Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Springbuck.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Springboks have a head and body length of 4.0-4.6 ft (120-140 cm), tail length of 7.5-10.8 in (19.0-27.5 cm), shoulder height of 2.4-2.9 ft (73-87 cm), and weight of 70-100 lb (32-45 kg). A dark reddish brown horizontal band along its flanks divides the cinnamon-fawn upper parts from the white underside, back of the thighs, inside of the legs, and the tail. Their hindquarters also appear to be slightly higher than the shoulders. They have white coloration on their face and muzzle, with a dark reddish brown stripe running through the eyes down to the corner of the mouth. The stripes turn to a darker shade and eventually to white on the lower third of the body. Their backside is white. Both sexes have medium-long, lyre-shaped, curved, black horns with bulges across them, although mature males have distinctly thicker and longer ones, growing as much as 14-19 in (36-48 cm) long. They are generally distinct from other gazelle species with respect to their teeth. Springboks have five pairs of grinding teeth in their lower jaws, two pre-molars, and three molars, while other gazelles have six pairs of grinding teeth in all. Another species difference is the fold of skin extending along the middle of the back to the base of the tail. This fold is covered with hair, much lighter in color than the rest of the back. When alarmed by possible predators, they open and raise this fold so that white hair is conspicuously displayed as a crest along the back. While showing this fold, white hairs on the rump are erected and the animal frequently leaps high.

DISTRIBUTION

Originally found in Namibia, southwestern Angola, Botswana, and South Africa, but range has been drastically reduced.

HABITAT

Springboks prefer open, arid plains, savannas, and grasslands that occur in the arid western areas of the southern African subregion.

BEHAVIOR

Springboks are highly gregarious, being active during the cooler times of the day and partially active at night. When springboks sense danger they repeatedly "spring" up (hence their name) to 9.8-11.5 ft (3.0-3.5 m) into the air with their front and hind legs close together and stiff; hooves bunched; backs arched and showing off their broad, white crests; and their heads straight, in a display called "pronking." They then hit the ground and rebound with apparently little effort. This action often results in other springboks responding with the same efforts. The leaps are used primarily to distract predators. Also when in fear for their safety, springboks will let out a high-pitched alarm. They normally congregate in small mixed or ram (male) herds, but can occasionally be seen in herds of several thousands when moving to new feeding grounds. During drier months they divide into smaller groups of up to 100 females and young, each associated with a number of adult males. Non-territorial solitary males form bachelor herds of up to 50 individuals. They are territorial, especially when they gather up female groups during the rutting season. They do not, however, remain in their territories throughout the year.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

They graze and browse both on grass and flowers/shrubs (especially karroo shrubs), often switching from one to the other depending on the season. They are fairly independent of the water supply, being able to switch to flowers (which have double the mean water content from that of grasses) when less water is available. They can survive long periods of time without drinking water, but will drink it when available, because they obtain sufficient water from the succulent leaves they select. They will also dig up succulent roots.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Males that are younger, older, or injured (or with other problems) wander together in search of mates, but are of lower status with regards to reproduction. Dominant males and females with their earlier offspring remain in herds during the mating season. Springboks generally mate during the dry season and lactate during the hot, wet season when resources are most abundant. Births usually occur from October to December, at the start of the wet season. Gestation period is 4-6 months (averaging 171 days), and females generally reproduce every two years, starting between the ages of 1-2. Each female gives birth to a single young. Weaning usually occurs from 6-12 months. Parental contribution is primarily by the mother. They have a lifespan of about 7-10 years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Natural disasters and ongoing drought, along with pathogens and parasites, continue to threaten the animals.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Springboks are hunted for their meat. They can inflict enormous damage onto cultivated crops when their large-numbered groups migrate. ♦

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