Blesbok: Sacrificed for Trophy Hunting?
On the open plains of the South African Highveld dwells the unique species by the name of the Blesbok. These grazers are known to group themselves into herds consisting of females called ewes and their juveniles as the males referred to as rams have a tendency of remaining unaccompanied. Because the Blesbok has an easily identified white face and forehead, it was named after “Bles,” the Afrikaans word for a blaze that is often seen on the forehead of a horse. This once near-extinct antelope species is in danger of being considered vulnerable once again due to an increasing interest in hunting them for participation in the pelt trade.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects Blesbok, many awareness campaigns address the plight of Africa’s wild animals and birds due to trophy hunting and other factors as a whole. Because Nikela is for preserving all wild things and their wild places.
Facts about the Blesbok
The Blesbok or Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi is one of the showiest of the antelopes. It can be viewed as the South African version of its close relative, the Sassaby. Although the Blesbok is related to the Bontebok or Damaliscus pygargus dorcas and can interbreed with it to create an offspring best known as the Bontebles or baster Blesbok, the two species have different habitats in the wild. The Blesbok is native to South Africa and is spotted in large numbers in all national parks with open grasslands, including the Highveld in the Transvaal and the Free State to the Eastern Cape located farther south. It is identified as a plains species and dislikes any kind of wooded area. The Blesbok was first discovered in the 17th century with such a massive population that herds “reached from horizon to horizon.”
Distribution and Habitat:
The Blesbok in South Africa can be found throughout the country. It originally lived in a large area in the central part of South Africa, highveld plains, and other grassveld plains characterized by a colder climate. Due to extensive game farming, selling, breeding, reselling, and resettling of this type of antelope, they are widely distributed nowadays, even settling in the bushveld which is not their natural habitat. It is possible that they can be found in the Free State central grasslands and highlands, the Eastern Cape, the midland and highlands of KwaZulu-Natal, and in Northwest, Northern Cape, Southern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng, and even Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Their natural habitat is highveld, which is the open grassveld or grassland with water.
The Blesbok rams and ewes are remarkably similar when referring to their physical traits. As the smallest member of the Hartebeest tribe, the Blesbok is only 85–100 cm or 33–39 inches tall and weighs 55–80 kg or 120–175 pounds. One characteristic of the Blesbok is its prominent white blaze on the face and a horizontal brown strip which divides this blaze above the eyes. The Blesbok’s coat is a glossy, dark reddish brown, which contrasts with the white of its belly, lower legs, and facial blaze that are an even lighter shade. Its legs are brown with a white patch behind the top part of the front legs and lower legs whitish. Both sexes of the Blesbok carry horns that are ringed almost to the tip. The male has S-shaped horns that are 35–50 cm or 14–20 inches long, while the female’s horns are slightly shorter in length and slender.
The Blesbok is an exclusively grazing species that expresses its preference for short grass in sparse wooded areas, and particularly favors fresh green grass appearing after a veld burn. By eating grasses, the Blesbok keeps the grasslands trim, eventually spawning new growth. They also have a great need for water.
Behavior and Socialization:
The Blesbok prefers open grassland with some cover. Altogether, it is not considered an aggressive species when open space is available. Males are territorial during breeding since they often stand near or rest on large dung piles. They do not back away from marking territory with scrapes in the ground and rubs made by preorbital gland secretions from their foreheads. By scraping the ground with its horns, the Blesbok is simply demonstrating how it will defend its territory from other threatening species. Males fight other males and court females passing through their territory.
The Blesbok is a seasonal breeder with females having one young by calving early in the summer rainy season after an eight-month gestation. Breeding of the Blesbok in South Africa will often take place between September and December. In the other side of the world, most births are documented in the summer months between May and August. Young are weaned after around 4 months. Males and females are sexually mature at 27 months. Calves are not hidden but accompany their mothers from birth, which is an apparent adaptation to a former migratory existence. Along with the wildebeest, the Blesbok is the only antelope known to have follower young.
The lifespan of the Blesbok is from 11 to 17 years.
Conservation Status and Threats:
Blesbok are abundant in South Africa because of recent vigorous conservation. Unfortunately, the blesbok is still one of the top three species of antelope most hunted in South Africa for meat and biltong by local hunters. They are being bred extensively on private game farms since their meat is sought after by local and foreign hunters.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Sherah Janay