The little Steenbok is one of South Africa’s best known and most widely distributed small antelope. They weigh 11kg on average, and have a shoulder height of between 43 and 52cm. Only the males carry the straight little horns of between 9 and 19cm in length.
Steenbok have an extremely wide habitat tolerance, occurring from deserts to grasslands and bushveld and even in farmlands and on the edge of suburbia. They reach their highest population densities in open areas with short to medium length grass and only a scattering of trees and shrubs. They’re not dependent on water, but will drink when it is available. They feed on grass and leaves in about equal measures and will also ingest seeds, pods, fruit, roots and bulbs.
At high population densities individual steenbok of both sexes mark and defend small territories, while at lower densities pairs that share a common home range is more usual. Within their territories the Steenbok has preferred areas for feeding and resting. Steenbok are mostly diurnal animals, most active around dawn and dusk and resting up in deep shade during the heat of the day, though they do tend to be more nocturnal in their habits in areas where they are frequently disturbed. When threatened, Steenbok will prefer to try and hide, even in holes in the ground, and will wait until the last possible moment before jumping up and darting away at breakneck speed. Most interestingly, Steenbok defecate and urinate in scrapes they hoove in the ground and then cover again with soil, just like a cat.
Single lambs are born at any time of the year, though mostly in the rainy season, and are hidden in long grass, thickets or holes in the ground for the first few weeks of their life. Only about half of the lambs reach the weaning age of 3 months. They are fully grown by 14 months of age. All Africa’s larger predators, from the size of eagles, pythons and jackals to lions, prey on the Steenbok, and their natural life expectancy is only 6 to 10 years.
With an estimated population in excess of 600,000, and stable both inside and outside protected areas, the IUCN considers this common little antelope’s conservation status “least concern”. They can be found in all South Africa’s provinces, and are especially easy to observe in the Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg National Park, and Willem Pretorius Game Reserve.