Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park I
In this article, Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park I, I will be focussing on the browsers. In Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park II, I discussed the grazers of the Pilanesberg and in Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park III Megaherbivores, I discussed the real big ones, the megaherbivores.
Herbivores are animals that get their energy from eating plants and nothing else. There are two groups, viz. grazers and browsers.
Browsing antelopes feed on leaves, young shoots, thorns ,flowers from trees and bushes, and some utilize bulbs as well. Grazers, on the other hand, feed predominantly on grass material.
The difference in feeding habits determines where you are most likely to find these animals. Grazers will stick to grasslands, or woodland where enough grass is available. Browsers, on the other hand, can be found wherever shrubs or trees are present. Some browsers graze occasionally and some grazers browse occasionally.
For more information on the habitats of this game reserve, please go to Pilanesberg National Park where I discussed all the habitats/eco systems of Pilansberg.
Obviously, one can hardly discuss herbivores without thinking about their predators at the same time. As a matter of fact, all the animals discussed below have natural enemies which are mentioned as well. For a discussion of the predators, the carnivores, please consult my article on the Carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park.
Do you want to skip everything and check out the lodges and booking in that park right now?
Among browsers found in the Pilanesberg National Park are eland, kudu, bushbuck, impala, springbok steenbok, klipspringer and the common duiker.
Eland, kudu and bushbuck are closely related (all from tragelaphus subgenus). The eland is the world's largest antelope, measuring around 1.7 metres at the shoulder; females weigh 275 kilograms to 500kg, while bulls generally weigh about 700-800kg (Wikipedia).
In spite of it being the largest antelope in the world, the eland is remarkably agile. It can clear 2 meter fences. The Polaroid photo below is an indication of this agility. The eland was spooked by a lion.
Both sexes have horns, about 65 centimetres long and with a steady spiral ridge (resembling that of the bushbuck).
Eland is primarily a browser. An interesting thing about them is the fact that they are independent of water, since they get their moisture from roots, tubers and melons. On top of this they do not sweat at all, thus saving body water. (Pilanesberg Guide).
The common eland has an unusual social life, leaving or joining herds as necessary without forming close ties.
Predators in the wild are predominantly lions and the African wild dog.
Agility of eland
A magnificent antelope, measuring 1.45m in height. Weight: 120 to 315 kg. ( Males: 190 to 315 kg and Females: 120 to 215 kg). Height: Males: 122 to 150 cm and Females: 100 to 140 cm. The kudu's horns are spectacular and can grow as long as 72 inches, making 2 1/2 graceful twists. The female has no horns.
Kudus have acute sight, scent and hearing and when alarmed, releases a bark which is the loudest among antelopes. Kudus are very agile and can clear 2 m fences from a standing position. An interesting fact about kudus is that their long horns are never an impediment in their preferred habitat, thicket. A male kudu easily negotiates dense bush by tilting its head up so that his horns drop back onto his back.
Like many other antelope, male kudu can be found in bachelor groups, but they are more likely to be widespread. Males do not have long shows for dominance; it is usually quick and peaceful, consisting of one male giving the most lateral show, standing up front and making himself look big. Males are seen with females only in the mating season, where they'll only be in groups of 5-15 with their offspring. (Wikipedia)
Kudus are almost exclusively browsers and eat leaves and shoots. In dry seasons, they eat wild watermelons and other fruit for the liquid they provide.
Predators: Lion, leopard, hyenas. Newborns are also vulnerable to smaller carnivores and the African python.
This is another beautiful antelope, sharing the same subgenus (tragelaphus ) with eland and kudu, though not as big, measuring 80 cm at the shoulder. Ewes are smaller.
Coloration: The colour varies, depending on geographic location. Eastern and southern bushbuck are yellow in colour with relatively few markings. Northern and western bushbuck, as is the case in the Pilanesberg National Park, are chestnut coloured with stripes and spots. Both males and females have geometrically shaped white patches or spots on the most mobile parts of their body, namely the legs, ears, chin, tail, legs and neck, as well as a band of white at the base of the neck. Both sexes darken with age. Males actually become a dark charcoal.
Habitat: Habitat is dense riverine bush near water. Bushbuck are active in the late afternoon and early morning. They rest during the heat of the day.
Bushbuck are primarily browsers and they like picking up fruit and flowers dropped by monkeys and other tree dwellers.
Behaviour: The bushbuck is also the only non-territorial and solitary African antelope with neither males nor females defending any part of their home range, but males but will defend an area that a female in heat in using. Though bushbuck have small home ranges which may overlap with those of other bushbuck, they are solitary animals with even females preferring to keep social interactions with their young to not more than a few hours a day. Mature males usually go out of their way to avoid contact with each other.
Predators: Primarily the leopard.
Impalas are medium sized antelopes, weighing approximately 75 kilograms. They are reddish-brown in color with lighter flanks, have white underbellies and a characteristic "M" marking on its rear. Males have lyre-shaped horns which can reach up to 90 centimeters in length. (Wikipedia). Only Males have horns.
This antelope is very agile - it can jump up to 3 meters high and 12 meters far.
They are both grazers and browsers on a wide variety of plants.
Habitat: Impalas will be found in light woodland and open grassland in Pilanesberg, usually close to water.
Being highly gregarious animals, impala form big herds, but during the mating Season, from April to June, the females form herds of 10 to 50 or more and wander in and out of male territories. Each adult impala ram establishes its own territory, and spends the greater part of his time trying to keep the females and their young within the boundaries of his domain, defending it against the intrusion of any other male.
On defending their territories, males will resort to some sort of intimidation process, but it usually ends up in intense fighting. After the mating season, peace and tranquility returns to the herd, and some of the evicted young males rejoin the herd.
Impala are very often seen associated with giraffe, kudu, zebra, wildebeest and baboons (unless when the lambs are born, as baboons are known to prey on young impala lambs).
Predators: Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyaenas and African wild dogs.
Springbok is a medium-sized brown and white gazelle-like antelope. It is smaller than impala, standing 75 cm high and weighing 40 kg. The springbok is strikingly marked. It has a white face with dark stripes from the mouth to the eyes, a reddish-brown coat that turns to a darker shade and then to white on the lower third of its body, and a white backside.
Socialisation: Springbok are herd animals and move in small herds (up to hundred) during winter, but often crowd together in bigger herds in summer. They browse and graze new grass, flowers and bulbs. They are well adapted to hot, arid conditions and are not dependent on water. They occur only in open grasslands where they can utilize their great speed to flee from predators. They can reach up to 80 kph and jump up to 15 meters in a single leap.
Springbok males are territorial, but do not always remain on their territories throughout the year. During the breeding season, they try to keep females in their territory by herding. In breading season the males can fight fiercely with their horns - more so than most other antelope species. They often clash and lock their horns and wrestle ferocious to pull their opponents off balance. They get so involved in this, that they become totally oblivious of impending danger from predators. These fights occur when the males establish their territories. They mark their territories by thrashing and picking up vegetation with their horns. This give them sometimes a "head dress" of tangled vegetation that looks quite funny.
The springbok is known for a very peculiar habit called "pronking". This is the Afrikaans word for "showing off". The biological name of the springbok ("jumping buck") is Antidorcas marsupialis.
The Latin name "marsupialis" refers to a fold of skin, a pocket-like pouch of skin, lined with white hair, extending from the middle of the back to the rump. This white hair is usually folded out of sight, showing only a slight, thin white strip.
"Pronking" involves the springbok to trot in stiff-legged way, jumping up into the air (up to 4 meters high) with an arched back, head bent down every few paces. At the same time the "pouch" on his back and rump is deliberately pulled open, causing the white hair inside the pouch to stand up like a crest or fan. The long hair around the tail area stand up as well. At the same time a strong floral scent of sweat is emitted from the gland rich area of the pouch.
I quote from someone with first-hand experience: "The odour(almost like honey) of this sectretion is released as the crest is flared. Anyone that ever smelled this, will know that few odours match the richness and sweetness of the springbok's pronk." Check out his webpage for a full extended pronk crest, unfortunately from a springbok which had been shot.
How can "pronking" be explained?
Springbok exhibit this activity when they are excited in whatever way, be it from nervousness due to the presence of a predator, as part of mating ritual or even during play. Pronking has even been observed during and after rainfalls after long periods of drought - as if they are celebrating the joy of living. Another theory stated that the male springbok is showing off his strength to attract a mate.
However, mostly pronking is associated with survival in the face of danger from predators.
- One theory is that pronking is meant to indicate to predators that they have been spotted.
- According to another theory pronking actually suggests that springboks show off their individual strength and fitness. Pronking actually reduces the lead distance and speed of the pursued animal, and thus makes it easier for the predator to catch.
As if it is saying: "come on! I'm making it easier for you to catch me, but I know you can't! Catch me if you can!" Since mammalian predators tend to hunt young, old or unhealthy animals, pronking informs the predator that the animal is actually very healthy and strong and the predator might do well to try to hunt the other animals in the herd. It is an established fact that cheetahs actually abandon more hunts when the gazelle stots, and in the event they do give chase, they are far less likely to make a kill. When the chase is indeed on, springbok can reach 80 km/h (50 mph).
- Another theory is that pronking enhances vigilance and gives the members of a herd a clear view of the surrounding countryside and its dangers.
- Yet another theory suggests that this behavior is an act of altruism, thinking the animal tried to draw the predator's attention to itself and away from the herd. Basically in the same way as a breeding bird fakes an injury to draw a predator away from her chicks.
- Whatever the reason, this most distinctive defensive behaviour of the springbok, is a captivating sight.
Common duiker, steenbok and klipspringer
These are small browsing antelopes. Steenbok are solitary or in pairs; common duiker are solitary and klipspringer ("rock jumper") live in small family groups. Steenbok prefer woodland, but they can utilize a variety of habitats. Steenbok typically browse on low-level vegetation, but are also adept at scraping up roots and tubers. They will also take fruits and seasonally graze on grass. They are almost entirely independent of drinking water, gaining the moisture they need from their food. Their major predators are leopard, caracal, jackal, martial eagle and pythons.
An interesting fact about klipspringers is that their hooves are adapted for climbing or jumping from rock to rock. They only occur in very rocky environments. They have long, narrow soles and blunt rounded tips and they walk on the tips of their hooves (like a ballerina!). Their diet consists of the selective browsing of flowers, tender green shoots and fruits of a wide variety of shrubs and herbs. They hardly ever feeds on grass and are not dependent on drinking water.
Common duiker (1,2) and steenbok (3,4)
Accommodation in the Pilanesberg National Park
A tourist has a variety of six lodges to choose from, viz. Ivory Tree Game Lodge and Tsukudu Bush Lodge (both 5 stars), Kwa Maritane and Bakubung (both 4 stars), and Manyane and Bakgatla (both 3 stars). The SA Tourism star grading says it all.
Another option is to book in at one of the hotels at Sun City, enjoy everything on offer there and do day trips into the game reserve.
For more information on
the hotels, lodges and booking, click here.
Useful links on Pilanesberg National Park
The Pilanesberg Guide is an excellent book to have. If you do go there, you have to get it beforehand. It is available at Amazon (see below) or at Kalahari.net right here.
This link is a gallery of 79 excellent photos of the wildlife in Pilanesberg.
The official website of the Pilanesberg National Park of the North West Park and Tourism Board.
The official site of the African Wildlife Foundation.
Eco Travel Africa
In this article I've discussed the herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, in particular the browsers. I sincerely hope this will contribute towards you going there and see for yourself! In case you do consider it, check out the accommodation available at Sun City as well as in the game reserve.
In Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park II I will deal with the grazers in Pilanesberg.
Don't forget to take your binoculars along! If you don't have a pair, consider buying one before you go. You could consult my article on safari binoculars.
Books on the mammals of Southern Africa available at Amazon
by Burger Cillie
Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)
Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)
by R.H.N. Smithers, J. Skinner
Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)
Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)
Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)