Steenbok

A tiny steenbok looks back over its shoulder.

The steenbok is an attractive species of dwarf antelope that is common across Southern Africa.

Name:
Steenbok
Scientific Name:
Raphicerus campestris
Weight:
12 kg
Shoulder Height:
45–60 cm
Mating Season:
Throughout the year

Description

The Steenbok, because it is so small, can be called a dwarf antelope. Steenboks are a pale red-orange color with its abdomen a white color, along with a few patches of fur: on its legs, on its neck and on the bottom side of its tail. They have unusually large ears with white linings by which they are usually identified. Within the Botswana population, females are slightly larger than males, weighing an average of 11,3kg compared to the 10,9kg average among rams. Males have small, straight horns of between 9 and 19cm in length standing upright on their heads, absent in females.

Distribution

These Dwarf Antelope can be found almost anywhere within Southern Africa, from the Southern parts of the Cape, to the mainland and plateau of South Africa. Areas beyond South Africa’s borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique also house many Steenbok, with the exception of some parts of the lifeless Namib Desert far from a major river or year round water source. They are also fairly widespread in Zambia an in Kenya, south of Mount Kenya which marks is northernmost distribution border. In the Kruger National Park 2 or 3 pairs of Steenbok might pass one’s vehicle, sometimes unnoticed as they walk through the thick, long grass.


Status

Steenboks are fairly common on both sides of the Miombo woodlands of Zambia, which is the geographical “no man’s land” between the two main areas which they populate. Their populations are steadily increasing in many protected areas such as the Kruger National Park, and are stable otherwise with a slight increase overall. They are quite easily pleased when it comes to an environment to live in, and overall an underestimated 600 000 territorial individuals are spread out across semi-desert, woodland and grassland areas within Sub-Saharan Africa. They are under no criteria threatened by endangerment, and are slowly but surely growing in numbers, despite their already large size as a species.

Habitat

Steenbok are quite unconventional when looking at the habitats they inhabit. They are found in many open habitats such as woodland and savanna areas labeled a no go area for many small antelope because of the lack of cover available to conceal them from predatory eyes. They make themselves residents of virtually any habitat that fulfills their needs and requirements of a water source and vegetation, and with as little predators as possible. They may be found in denser areas with more trees like in Kenya, or Bushveld areas with scattered acacia trees and long grass like the North of South Africa. Overall they are very adaptive and very widely distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Social Organization

Steenboks are solitary and territorial animals, living alone on their respective patches of land and fighting for more, or to protect that which they have. They pair for life, which means they have the same mating partner throughout their whole life, till death do them part. These couples live together within their territory and will not breed with any other Steenboks. Average territory sizes range from as little as 0.04 square kilometers, to near 1 square kilometer in area. In this piece of land they forage, find shelter, reproduce and raise young.

Social Behavior

Steenboks, because of their very territorial nature, regularly leave excrement and urine on the borders of their territories. Both males and females do this in a ritualistic manor whereby they defecate or urinate and then cover the spot with sand or gravel by using their front legs like a cat would. This helps to prolong the period in which the dung or urine spot stays moist to preserve their scent. They do this regularly, which later forms a type of visible border between territories between the different piles of dung covered in sand. When an individual enters or nears another’s territory, it is usually met by raising postures and stamping.

Reproduction

Pre-mating rituals usually involve male steenboks licking the genitals of females, males lifting their front legs between the hind legs of females and both genders rubbing or nibbling at the other’s face. Steenboks usually start mating when they reach sexual maturity, 8.5 months for males and around 7 months for females. Females will usually bare the pair’s single offspring at 1 year of age, known as calving, after a gestation period of up to 177 days or 5.5 months. This mating process may occur any time of the year, whenever the female steenbok is in heat, although births generally peak in the beginning of the rainy season.

Anti-Predator Behavior

Steenboks are very vulnerable to most species of predators, from caracals, servals and other wild cats, down to different species of jackal such as the black backed and side striped jackals found in the Kruger National Park, even adult steenbok. Steenbok young have another list of potential customers for which they may offer a meal, including many species predatory birds, foxes and snakes. Their main strategy when for getting away from predators is flight. When a carnivore is spotted, they usually hide in bushes or conceal themselves in tall grass, waiting for the moment to sprint way. They can change direction very suddenly and sharply, and gives them an advantage against some predators, along with their surprising stamina.

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