The long-legged oribi (oorbietjie in Afrikaans) is a small antelope, and one of the most special wildlife sightings you could hope for in South Africa.
They stand only between 50 and 65cm high at the shoulder, and weigh around 14kg. Only the males carry the sharp little horns that average between 10 and 13cm long.
These dainty antelope have very specific habitat requirements, preferring grasslands and floodplains with just the correct mix of short (for grazing) and long (for hiding) patches of grass. They also have very specific preferences as to the type of short grasses they feed on and, while they often occur near water, do not appear to drink very regularly, if at all.
Oribis are the most social of the smaller antelope species; the most commonly encountered grouping being a single territorial ram with up to four adult ewes and their lambs.
Oribi rams are territorial, and the family groups are extremely reluctant to leave their home ranges, even when being pursued (they prefer sprinting short distances to hide in long grass). For this reason, they suffer more than most dwarf antelope from predation and poaching. In South Africa, most lambs are born in the summer months of November and December and remain hidden for up to 4 months before they join their mother’s family group. They have a natural lifespan of 8 to 13 years.
Today, the oribi is one of South Africa’s most endangered mammals, although in many other parts of Africa they are still quite numerous. Their favoured grassland habitat is prime for farming and thus getting ever scarcer and more fragmented, while illegal hunting with dogs is a further risk to their continued survival. Nevertheless, a substantial portion of the population still occurs on private land, and the Oribi Working Group’s annual census is an important tool to establish population sizes and trends.
South Africa’s biggest single population of oribi occurs in the Chelmsford Nature Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal Province. Chelmsford was the first destination on our recent summer holidays in the bush, and we’ll soon share more about our latest visit there with you.