The Latin name marsupialis derives from a pocket-like skin flap which extends along the middle of the back from the tail onwards. When the male springbok is showing off his strength to attract a mate, or to ward off predators, he starts off in a stiff-legged trot, jumping up into the air with an arched back every few paces and lifting the flap along his back. Lifting the flap causes the long white hairs under the tail to stand up in a conspicuous fan shape, which in turn emits a strong floral scent of sweat. This ritual is known as pronking from the Afrikaans, meaning to boast or show off.
Springbok inhabit the dry inland areas of south and southwestern Africa. Their range extends from the northwestern part of South Africa through the Kalahari desert into Namibia and Botswana. Springboks can be found in numbers of up to 250,000 in South Africa. They used to be very common, forming some of the largest herds of mammals ever documented, but their numbers have diminished significantly since the 19th century due to hunting and fences from farms blocking their migratory routes.
Springbok are between 70 – 87 centimetres tall at the shoulder, depending on the age, weight and gender of the particular antelope, they weigh between 26–40 kg for the females and 33–50 kg for the males. Their colouring consists of three colours, white, reddish/tan and dark brown. Their backs are tan coloured and at the bottom they are white, along each side there is a dark brown stripe extending from the shoulder on towards the inside thigh.
Rams are slightly larger than ewes and have thick horns, the ewes tend to have skinnier legs and longer, more frail horns. Average horn length for both genders is 35 cm with the record being a female with horns measuring 49,21 cm in length. Springbok tracks are narrow and sharp and are 5,5 cm from point to point.
Habitat and diet
In South Africa springbok inhabit the vast grasslands of the Free State and the open shrublands of the greater and smaller Karoo. In Namibia they live in the grasslands of the south, the Kalahari desert to the east and the dry riverbeds of the northern bushveld of the Windhoek region. In Botswana they mostly live in the Kalahari Desert in the southwestern and central parts of the country.
Springbok mostly eat grasses, leaves, shoots and other small plants although their favourites include the sweet succulent shrubs of the Karoo.
Main article: Stotting
Springbok often go into bouts of repeated high leaps (up to 13 feet) into the air in a practice known as "pronking" (Afrikaans and Dutch: pronk = to show off) or "stotting". While pronking, the Springbok leaps back into the air as soon as it comes down, with its back bowed and the white fan lifted. While the exact cause of this behaviour is unknown, springboks exhibit this activity when they are nervous or otherwise excited. One theory is that pronking is meant to indicate to predators that they have been spotted. Another is that Springbok show off their individual strength and fitness so that the predator will go for another (presumably weaker) member of the group. Another opinion is that Springboks and other similar antelopes do this to spray a hormone that is secreted from a gland near the heel.
The Dutch/Afrikaans term Trekbokken refers to the large-scale migration of herds of Springbok that were seen roaming the country during the early pioneering days of South Africa before farming fences were erected. Millions of migrating Springbok formed herds hundreds of kilometers long that could take several days to pass a town. These are the largest herds of mammals ever witnessed.
Springboks can meet their water needs from the food they eat, and survive without drinking water through dry season, or even over years. Reportedly, in extreme cases, they won't drink water over the their entire life. Springbok may accomplish this by selecting flowers, seeds, and leaves of shrubs before dawn, when these foods are most succulent
Relationship with humans
Since prehistory the springbok was hunted by primitive man using stone tools. Up to present times springbok are hunted as game throughout Namibia, Botswana and South Africa because of their beautiful coats, and because they are very common and easy to support on farms with very low rainfall, which means they are cheap to hunt as well. The export of springbok skins mainly from Namibia and South Africa is also a booming industry.
Springbok populations are one of the few antelope species that are considered to have an expanding population.
The springbok was a national symbol of South Africa under white minority rule (including a significant period prior to the establishment of Apartheid). It was adopted as a nickname or mascot by a number of South African sports teams, most famously by the national rugby union team. It appeared on the emblems of the South African Air Force, the logo of South African Airways (for which it remains their radio callsign), the reverse of the Krugerrand, and the Coat of Arms of South Africa. It also featured as the logo of 'South Africa's Own Car', the Ranger, in the early 1970s.
The former South African Prime Minister and architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, had a dream to change the then-current Flag of South Africa, remove the three small flags in its center (he objected especially to the British Union Flag being there) and replace them with a leaping Springbok Antelope over a wreath of six proteas. This proposal aroused, however, too much controversy and was never implemented.
The Springbok is currently the national animal of South Africa.
After the demise of apartheid, the ANC government decreed that South African sporting teams were to be known as the Proteas after the national flower of South Africa. The rugby union team still maintain the name Springboks, however, after the intervention of then-president Nelson Mandela, who did so as a gesture of goodwill to the mainly white (and largely Afrikaner) rugby supporters. However, the emblem issue occasionally resurfaces, and leads to much controversy.
During the Second Boer War, a Boer force attempting to sneak up on the Royal Canadian Dragoons was defeated after their movements startled the nearby springbok, thus alerting the Canadian sentries. This is why the Dragoons have the Springbok as their cap badge and as their mascot.