Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi
The Blesbok is a medium-sized antelope endemic to South Africa’s central plains. They have a shoulder height just short of 1m and weigh around 70kg. The “bles” in their name refers to the striking white blaze on their faces.
The Blesbok naturally occurs only on the open grasslands of South Africa’s Highveld, where they are well adapted to the cold winters, though they have been introduced to farmland in the more densely wooded Bushveld and drier Karoo regions as well with varying success. Their diet consists almost exclusively of short grasses and require daily access to a supply of fresh drinking water.
Blesbok form large mixed herds during winter, but at the onset of the summer the rams will start establishing small territories, demarcated with scent glands and dung heaps, advertised through ritualised displays and maintained through some serious fighting, in which they attempt to herd and keep groups of ewes with which to mate. Blesbok are diurnal animals, resting during the heat of the day by positioning themselves with lowered heads facing the sun. Blesbok are fast runners with great stamina. When moving, herd members follow each other in a straight line, even when fleeing from predators.
Ewes give birth to single lambs, usually in the summer months, and will nurse only their own lambs. Lambs are capable of running with the herd within 20 minutes of birth, and are preyed upon by jackals, caracals and feral dogs. Most of Africa’s large predators have been exterminated from the Blesbok’s range. They have a life expectancy of up to 17 years in the wild.
The Blesbok once occurred in enormous numbers on the Highveld of South Africa, but excessive hunting led to the population plummeting to a low of about 2,000 at the end of the 19th century. Their numbers have since been built back up, but not nearly to erstwhile levels, with the IUCN estimating a population of approximately 240,000, most of which occur on private land where they are a popular game ranching animal as they can be contained by standard stock fencing. Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Rietvlei Nature Reserve and Willem Pretorius Game Reserve are good places to go searching for Blesbok.