ANTELOPE WILDLIFE What's in a Name? The name antelope derives from a Greek word meaning " brightness of eye" — a description particularly apt in the case of the enchanting, Bambi- like dwarf gazelles. Today the name applies to hoofed, even- toed, cud- chewing animals with horns that are hollow and never shed ( unlike those of deer). The horns are carried by all male antelope and by does in about half the species. The hoofs of antelope are centrally split, pushed forward to raise the animal on to " tiptoe", and hardened to withstand pounding while running. Proportionally, those of the Sitatunga are the longest ( up to 18cm), the two halves splaying wide to spread the animal's weight and enable it to travel over mud and reed beds. Addax also spread hoofs for support on soft desert sands. A number of antelope species have elongated muzzles, which are an aid to cropping short grass 128 msafiri Some accelerate to unexpected speeds; others survive months without drinking; all are beautiful to U nbelievable as it may seem, there are around 80 distinct species of antelope in Africa and about the same number again of subspecies. Although often overlooked in favour of the more glamorous Big Five on safari- goers' wish- lists, these sensitive- seeming animals prove irresistibly charming when actually encountered in the wild. Their exquisite horns and markings, alert watchfulness and athletic pronking can be hypnotically beautiful. Short shrift should be given to people who groan, when on safari, " Not another impala!" On the contrary, even the commonest species of antelope deserve appreciation. The bush would seem desolate without them.
ANTELOPE and the leaves of thorny bushes. They and others grip food between the lower cutting teeth and a hard pad in the upper jaw, tear it off, then swallow. Later it is regurgitated from the multi- chambered stomach and thoroughly chewed using a rhythmic sideways motion. This ensures maximum absorption of nutrients locked up in giant cellulose molecules. Deficiencies in essential minerals and salts are overcome by eating soil. The variety of antelope is impressive: the majestic Giant eland is the largest living species ( weighing up to 900kg) and the Royal the smallest ( a mere 2kg). Many antelope are on the endangered or critical lists, including the hirola ( the rarest antelope), the Western hartebeest, Giant sable, Addax and Scimitar-horned oryx. All the gazelles, gerenuk, dibatag, Mountain nyala and duikers, which are hunted throughout Africa for bush- meat, are also under threat. Very serious population declines have been noted in all four lechwe species and only rigid protection has saved the bontebok from annihilation. Grazers and Browsers Some antelope, such as bongo and nyala, browse bushes and trees; others, for example puku and kob, graze the grasslands. There are a few ( including impala, steenbok, Cape grysbok and Beisa oryx) who can switch between the two if need be, but most find the chemical and nutritional differences between grasses and broad-leaved plants too great. The belief that the reactive build-up of tannin in a browsed mopane tree causes a kudu to move on is unfounded, for the toxic process takes too long to have that affect. Gerenuk and dibatag, with their extraordinarily elongated necks and legs, are able to 129 msafiri watch. From the elusive hirola to ubiquitous impala, we celebrate Africa's most elegant mammals. LEFT TO RIGHT: Greater kudu, bushbuck, gerenuk, Grant's gazelle, topi, Damara dik- dik, Scimitar-horned oryx, bongo. ( left to right): Ingrid van den Berg/ HPH Photography; Nigel Dennis/ AfricaImagery. com; Ariadne van Zandbergen; Jonathan & Angela Scott; anup shah/ nature picture library; Ingrid van den Berg/ HPH Photography; Ariadne van Zandbergen; Ingrid van den Berg/ HPH Photography