Have you ever taken a hike in the beautiful Cape Fold Mountains and got the feeling that you are being watched? Well, you probably are. Just drag your eyes away from the splendid vistas and the overwhelming biodiversity of plants at your feet, and cast your eyes up to the rocky ledges above. If you look carefully, you may see what looks like a little statue atop a rock – until it moves. Then you realise it’s a klipspringer.
Klipspringer, (Oreotragus oreotragus), is a small rock-climbing antelope, no bigger than a medium-sized dog.
It lives in the mountains of eastern and southern Africa. Its Kiswahili name that translates to “goat of the rocks” is apt, as is its Afrikaans name which means “rock jumper”. Even its scientific name means “rock goat” – all this indicating that rocks and klipspringers are seldom separated.
Photo: San Diego Zoo
Adaptations for its specialized niche include a stocky build with sturdy hindquarters, a short neck, a vestigial tail, a dense undercoat with brittle, air-filled guard hairs, and the ability to stand on “tiptoes” on its truncated hooves. Its colouring—shades of grizzled tan, grey, and brown, which vary with location—conceals the klipspringer from predators; it has no contrasting markings except on its large, rounded ears, which are black and white. Horns are straight hollow spikes around ten cm long.
The klipspringer’s hooves are specially adapted to its rocky lifestyle. The delicate little hooves are cloven and the two halves can move slightly apart so that it’s better able to land softly and grip the rocks with a slight suction cup effect as it lands.
Its bounding gait and sure-footedness enable the klipspringer to outrun predators on precipitous slopes and rocky terrain—making such places sanctuaries.
Klipspringer hooves. Photo: Wikipedia
The Klipspringer is equally adaptable in its diet. Because it lives in rocky areas where vegetation is scarce, it has adapted to survive on a diet of tough, fibrous plants. Its digestive system is able to break down these tough fibres and extract as much nutrition as possible from them, allowing it to survive and thrive in some of the most inhospitable environments in Africa.
Like most dwarf antelopes such as the dik-dik, klipspringers live in monogamous pairs and jointly defend their territories. Pairs associate closely, and a youngster is often seen accompanying the female; offspring leave home as yearlings, by which time they are adult in size. Both sexes spend much time posting territorial boundaries with dung middens and tarlike globules of pre-orbital gland secretion daubed on twigs.
The male is particularly vigilant and, in addition to marking, spends hours standing sentinel on promontories where he can see and be seen to advantage. He thus visually advertises territorial occupancy while guarding his property and family from intrusions by rivals and predators. The nursing female is thus freed to spend extra time feeding her fawn. If her mate sounds the whistling alarm snort, they immediately bound uphill to sanctuary. Predators include eagles, leopards, caracal and, of course, humans.
Klipspringers were hunted almost to extinction in past years for their fur; the hollow hair made it particularly prized as comfortable stuffing for saddles.
While the klipspringer is listed as a Species of Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, it is nevertheless vulnerable. Habitat loss is a constant threat to survival. As human populations increase and resources become ever scarcer, our actions (or inaction) can have far-reaching consequences.
Believe it or not, these delightful, harmless little antelopes are also seen as trophies to be hunted for “sport”. A South African hunting lodge advertises: “… Hunt Lodge allows the opportunity to hunt and harvest Trophy Class Klipspringer in South Africa. The Limpopo Province of South Africa is the premier destination in the World to hunt the Klipspringer. There are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the Klipspringer in South Africa, which makes it a suitable trophy year round. We can accommodate all methods of Hunting for Klipspringer including Rifle, Bow, Black Powder, Crossbow or Handgun. We can accommodate hunters of any age and experience level.”
It will cost you a mere US$2,500 to hunt down and kill this little Bambi.