The Bontebok

Official mascot for Cape Hunt.

Both the bontebok and blesbok are grazing antelopes that spend their day feeding on short grass. They are less active during the hotter midday hours and routinely stand in groups facing the sun, frequently nodding their lowered heads (4). Bontebok adult males defend territories all year round (5), marking them with dung and urine (2), and chasing away any intruding males from large bachelor herds of young males that roam at will (5). Small nursery herds of two to eight females and their young commonly remain with the same territorial male all year round, which is an interesting feature of bontebok territoriality (6). The territorial males encourage any passing females to stay by carrying out a special sexual display (5). Blesboks have a similar social structure to the bontebok, with a few noticeable differences. Nursery herds are generally larger, consisting of up to 25 females (2), and adult males do not maintain their territories during winter and spring. During this cold, dry season very large mixed-age groups of up to 650 animals may be formed. In order to conserve energy during this period of scarce food, there is little activity of any kind (5). Bonteboks mate between January and March (5), with lambs being born from September to October (4), while blesbok mating peaks in April (2), and most lambs are born from November to January (4). Both subspecies have an eight month gestation period and their young are up and mobile within an hour or two of birth. Females mature in about two years and can live for up to 17 years (2)

The Bontebok was historically confined to the coastal plain (60-200 m) of the Western Cape, South Africa, where overhunting reduced it from locally abundant to the verge of extinction. It was saved from extinction in the mid-19th century by a few Cape farming families who protected the small remnant populations. From a low of less than 20 animals in the original Bontebok National Park (established near Bredasdorp in 1931), the population of this antelope has gradually recovered. The population of Bontebok National Park had reached 84 when the animals were translocated to the more suitable site of the current Bontebok National Park near Swellendam in 1960, and increased to a population of 320 in 1981. The parks Bontebok population has subsequently been maintained at around 250. Surplus animals removed from this national park have formed the nucleus of reintroduced populations in other protected areas such as provincial and local authority nature reserves. Extralimital populations have been established in West Coast National Park and at least two local authority reserves. Bontebok populations have also been established on private farms both within its natural range and elsewhere, e.g., in Eastern Cape and Free State provinces (East 1999).

The Blesboks historical distribution included the highveld of Free State and Gauteng provinces, parts of western and north-western KwaZulu-Natal, and the northern Karoo in the Eastern and Northern Cape, South Africa. It was separated by more than 300 km from the Bonteboks historical range. Although the Blesbok occurred in enormous populations in regions such as the highveld when the South African hinterland was first explored by Europeans, excessive hunting had reduced its numbers to about 2,000 by the late 19th century. Since then it has made a spectacular recovery, mainly on private farmland, and it has been translocated to many parts of the country both within and outside its natural range. The largest numbers occur on private farms in Gauteng, Free State and Northern Cape. Smaller numbers occur in numerous provincial reserves, with the largest populations in areas such as Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve in Gauteng and Tussen-die-Riviere Game Farm, Willem Pretorius Game Reserve and Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve in Free State (East 1999).

The Blesbok was formerly present in western Lesotho, but exterminated before 1900 (Lynch 1994). There is no reliable historical evidence that Blesbok occurred in Swaziland, but they have been introduced to Malolotja Nature Reserve and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Monadjem 1998).

The Blesbok has been introduced widely to privately owned game farms outside its natural range in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe (East 1999)

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