Alluring Antelopes and their Allies

Prong horn antelope

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What are antelopes?

There are 91 species of Antelopes, most are native to Africa, and the species are placed among about 30 genera. The term antelope is applied to many even toed ungulates and therefore is a miscellaneous group within the family Bovidae which comprise 140 species of cloven hoofed ruminant animals, for as an example Antilopinae is a sub family of the Bovidae and contains the Gazelles, Blackbucks, Springboks, Generukgs and Dibatogs.

They were, in times gone by, all grouped together in the genus Antilopus, which were at that time described as a very highly interesting family or tribe. The species of antelopes are so numerous, and they differ so much from each other, that no particular description could be framed to equally apply to all. Yet the family likeness among them is so strong, the term antelope can be applied to all of them.

The other animals to which they have the most resemblance both in structure and habits are the goats, though in shape and covering of their bodies, some of them resemble deer. However, there is not much danger of mistaking them for either one or the other.

Where both deer and antelopes have horns, the distinction between them is abundantly clear. the horns {antlers} of deer are not true horns, but annual appendages to the head, growing from the surface under the skin, which remains until they are full size, after which they begin to shrivel and then to harden so that they are at their peak during the mating {rutting} season, after which they fall off, sooner or later, depending on the species and the climate of the animal. However, they are all deciduous and like the leaves of deciduous trees which drop when mature, they leave a new skin upon the places to which were attached, or more accurately, it is the formation of that skin which interrupts their connection and causes them to fall off.

Conversely the horns of the antelopes are true horns, their cores being a natural extension of the cranial bones. Although it is probable that in all species they receive an inner layer of new substance every season, it is in all species a permanent part of the body throughout the animals life, unless damaged or destroyed in some accident.

Deer have horns {antlers} which are not permanent

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Characters of antelopes continued

In general the limbs of the antelope are very clean in their make, firm in their joints,elastic in their tendons and powerful in their muscles. The general covering of the animal is hair, short and smooth, however, it is not silky or woolly. In some species there is more produced hair in the form of manes, beards and elongations on the throat, scopae, or knee tufts on the fore legs, just below the carpel joints and other appendages.

In general the sexes are very nearly the same colour and where they do differ they follow the general law of nature, the change being in the adult male, for the young males are like the females. the ears of antelopes are in general, rather narrow, quite long and pointed. The tails vary considerably in different species, being very short in some, moderately long in others. many have short hair on all their length and in others it is entirely covered with long coarse hair.

Black buck and female

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A glimpse at the species---Blackbuck

The blackbuck, Antilope cervicapra was once commonly referred to as the Sasin. It is a native to the Indian subcontinent. It played an important part in Hindu mythology and was sacred to the goddess Chandra or the moon. It is smaller and more slender than fallow deer. the colour of these animals tend to vary with in accordance to age and sex. dark brownish grey tints prevail among the old bucks. The females are much brighter with a sorrel tint. Young females tend to have reddish hue.

The horns which are only borne by the bucks attain an average length of 16-20 inches {40cm-55cm} and are generally bent in a spiral of 3-4 sometimes 5 turns. At the roots the horns stand close together but at the extremities they are 12-16 inches { 30-45cm} apart. they are stout or more slender depending on the age of the animal, and are ringed nearly to the tip, which is smooth. bucks of advanced age sometimes show as many as 30 such rings, although their number does not stand as a direct proportion to age and growth.

Williams {1800s} regarded as an authority states-- " A few young males or old females are always posted as sentinels, when the herd is occupied in grazing on some favoured spot.These sometimes keep a particularly watchful eye on bushes, behind which a hunter might creep up and hide. the height and length of their leaps amaze everyone,they rise over 10 feet from the ground and clear a distance of 20-30 feet at a bound."

The body length is around 100-140cm {3.3-4.6 feet}. The shoulder height is 64-84cm { 2.10-2.76 feet}. Tail length-10-17cm { 3.9-6.7 inches} they weigh 25-40kg {55-88lbs}

They are classed as being Near Threatened by the IUCN* there are four subspecies-A.cervicapra cervicapra. A. cervicapra rajputanae. A.cervicapra centralis and A.cervicapra rupicaprii.

They graze on grasses but will also eat pods, flowers and fruit.

Chamois is a goat antelope species

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Chamois-Rupicapra rupicapra

The Chamois also referred to as a goat antelope species inhabits the mountains of Europe, these include the Carpathian mountains of Romania, the European Alp, the Tatra Mountains, the Balkans parts of Turkey and the Caucasus.

The legs of the chamois is like those of a goat,and have the firmness of that animal rather than the lightness of those of the antelopes. The neck is more slender than that of the goat.Both male and female have heads adorned with horns which are straightish but hooked backwards near the tip, the horn of the male being thicker. the horns are 6-7 inches {15 17.6 cm} long. they have contrasting marks and the sides of the head, pronounced black stripes below the eyes. They have a white rump and a black line along the back.

The hair on the body is shaggy, a deep fawn colour in summer fading to brown in winter.

the females produce their young 'kids' in March or April, after a gestation period of five months. They rarely have two young. Contrary to many of that family the females have only two teats. they continue to suckle their young until about October.

The height of the chamois is 70-80cm { 28-31 inches} the tail is very short and not usually visible. They are 107-137 cm { 42-54 inches} long. The males weigh 30-60 kg {66-130lb} the females are lighter weighing 24-45 kg {55-99lb}.

The beautiful gazelle

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Gazelle dorcas

Gazelle dorcas is a small but beautiful species and has long been known to naturalists. The specific name dorcas means ' bright eye'.

It is light and slender and yet its structure is such as to indicate maximum agility and strength that can exist in the same weight of body. the gazelle is perfectly formed and gives no impression of either burden or fatigue. it is rather smaller than the roebuck, being about three and a half feet, one foot more at the shoulder and a little higher at the croup.

The head and neck are beautifully formed also, the forehead slightly rounded. The eyes large and prominent, dark and expressive, the muzzle slightly slender, the ears long, narrow and pointed. The horns which reach between 9-10 inches { 23-25 cm} in length are gently rounded and lyrated. the females are provided with horns as well as the male , but in them they are shorter.

With the exception of the knee tufts, and the tail which is covered in stiff black hair and end in a brush, the whole body covering of the gazelle is close and smooth. the front part of the head is a reddish fawn colour with a dark brown streak on the nose, and a white one downwards from the base of each horn, over the eye, and along the side of the face, this contrast with the dark eyes give those eyes a peculiar brilliance hence the specific name.

The general colour of the upper part is dun, that of the under parts are white and the two colours are separated by marginal belts of brown, more or less conspicuous. the tints of colour, are, however, subject to variation both in different individuals and in the same individual at different ages, so that in this particular species colour can not be made a characteristic.

Gazelles keep to the open plains and browse upon the saline and other pungent plants which they meet with there. They are gregarious living in large herds. they place sentinels when they graze and bounding off apparently in different directions when an alarm is given, however, they make for a more commanding ground where they form a square, with the females and young in the center and the bucks defending the outer perimeter. The lion and the panther will, however, attack these squares, crouching forward till they are within distance then springing upon a chosen victim. On this attack the others move off bounding away at great speed.

It is when they resort to water, which is usually in the morning that antelopes in general and gazelles in particular suffer the most from these savage attacks by the beasts of prey. The gazelle is the species which, geographically at least, connect the antelopes of Asia and Africa.

The population of the gazelle is estimated at between 35,000 and 40,000 . They are classed as being Vulnerable.

Addax

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The Addax Addax nasomaculatusFormerly Addax addax.

These animals tend to inhabit the areas between the gazelle and the African deserts. It is also referred to as the Screwhorn Antelope. the horns are large , spiraled and much annulated-{ marked with or formed by rings}. They stand rather wider at the base in proportion to their length.

The addax has a tuft on the throat immediately below the chin. The tail is more produced than in many species and is naked for the greater part along its length ending in a bunch. The outline of the buttock is also less rounded and the insertion of the tail is further down.

the common antelope is gregarious and the old males are the rulers. The addax on the other hand, lives solitary or in pairs, and the males do not appear to interfere with each other. They inhabit not the acrid plains, half desert all over, but still have a breadth of vegetation, such as it is, on which they canbrowse. these are little patches in the desert and where there is enough water to resist being turned into sand and are usually covered with thickets of some sort or another.

Thus the addax has, in part at least, the solitary habit of the bush antelopes, rather than the social one of those of the plains. The hoof of this species is much broader than those of the majority of antelopes, which enables it to move more easily over the loose sands which often lie between the pastures.

The Addax is classified as being Critically Endangered by the IUCN

Oryx. Arabian oryx

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Oryx

Oryx leucoryx The Arabian oryx or the white oryx is a gregarious animal the inhabits the plains, but it browses on the leaves of trees, principally those of the Acacias and not on the saline plants favoured by the gazelle. The name oryx derives from the Greek and alludes to gazelle and antelope + leucos meaning white.

In general its habits resemble those of the gazelle.It is about the same size as the addax, but rather stouter in the body and the hoofs are narrower, and not so well designed for walking over loose sand. the general colour is white variously marked with black on the fore head and the brush in which the tail terminates. brown on the legs, and with rust a colour between the brown and white.

The oryx stands about a metre high at the shoulder and weighs around 70kg {150lb} both sexes have horns 50-75cm {20-30 inches long} .

The horns are long and slender and very slightly bent from the curve of the forehead throughout their length.

Apart from man its only enemy is the wolf. There are an estimated 1,000 individuals left in the wild with 6-7,000 in captivity.

Springbok

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Springbok Antidorcas marsupialis

We conclude our first look at the antelopes with a look at one of the most familiar species the springbok Antidorcas marsupialis formerly Antelope euchore. This is a species that in Southern Africa corresponds to the gazelles in the north of that continent. Of the two I consider this to be the most beautiful animal of the two. {it is only my personal opinion}

In size it is a third larger than the gazelle and an even more graceful animal. Its colouring is as equally fine in gloss and tint, the upper part being a cinnamon brown, and the underparts pure whit and on the flanks these two are separated by well defined bands of rusty red.

The head, face , cheeks and chin are white with brown bands on each side from the eyes to the corner of the mouth, and a mark of the same colour beginning at a small point over the muzzle, and gradually widening, till it merges in the general colour of the upper part.

At the loins their begins two dupilcatures or folds of skin, which run parallel to each other to the insertion of the tail. these folds are lined with long hair of the most delicate whiteness, and the animal displays or conceals that hair at will. When the animal is at rest or relaxed the folds are closed and nothing but the cinnamon colour is seen. But when the springbok bounds and leaps the folds open and the display of white has a very effective appearance.

The horns of the springbok are black and round finely annulated for about half their length, lyrated with bold flexures and overall they are most handsome. Both sexes have horns though those of the female are smaller. In fact their general characters are very similar to those of the gazelle.

They are, however, associated with much larger herds and are far more migrant. They do not form into such regular defense squares. They differ also in that their forward motions may not be as fleet as those of the gazelle their leaps are more conspicuous. As they are, in my personal opinion the most beautiful antelopes of Southern Africa, they are also among the most numerous. However, as is the case with many of our fellow creatures , they are not as numerous as they once were. they still form great herds, the total numbers in South Africa is estimated to be 2.5-3 million.

The species name of marsupialis derives from the Latin marsupium indicating a pocket or pouch and alludes to the pocket like skin flaps which extend along the middle of the back from the tail onwards.

The name springbok derives from Spring {leap} +bok meaning an antelope. {Afrikaans}


Springbok

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