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These antelope may not be big in size, but their rock-hopping leaps and adaptations for survival are impressive. Isn’t it time you took a closer look at klipspringers? By Wild Card member Marli Potgieter

I understand why people tend to chase the Big Five… I mean, they are really impressive animals – big, powerful and beautiful. But what about the smaller species that wildlife lovers so often overlook?

During a recent Kruger National Park vacation, we were treated to a special sighting. It was an overcast day with the promise of rain as we set off on the S94 dirt road close to Letaba Rest Camp. We didn’t have much luck to begin with. Few animals made their appearance, the only signs of big game were some hippo and spotted hyena tracks, and our failed attempts at photographing birds added to our misfortune. I was deep in thought when, all of a sudden, the vehicle came to an abrupt halt.

Surprise, surprise

That’s when my fiancé showed me, right next to the road, two beautiful klipspringers. They were surprisingly close and didn’t seem bothered by our presence. I immediately grabbed my camera while repeatedly whispering to myself: “Please don’t run. Please don’t run.”

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Pictures by Marli Potgieter

Despite watching our every move intently, the pair seemed to be quite relaxed. We turned the engine off and sat watching them without any disturbance. The female was busy foraging on leaves and grass while the male wandered around, nibbling here and there, and marking his territory on the vegetation.

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A nibble or more?

The male started to follow the female around quite persistently… It was then that I realised what he was actually up to. He wanted to mate, but she didn’t care much for his antics and continued to feed. What a special sighting. We managed to spend quite some time with the two before they disappeared into the bush.

Watching these pretty and dainty antelope was just as enchanting as any big game sighting. And if you search a little further, you’ll discover klipspringers have adapted to their environment in interesting and surprising ways.

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Curious klipspringer facts

The ballerina of the bush

While most ungulates [hoofed mammals] walk on their toes, the klipspringer walks on tiptoe, just like a dancer. This unique adaptation makes it easier to run on rocky terrain, thanks to the angle of the hooves. In the vertical position, the hoof’s hard rim provides grip, while the soft centre pad moulds itself to the rock.

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X marks the spot

Notice those black spots in front of the eyes? Those are the preorbital glands and they release a secretion that the klipspringer uses to scent-mark its territory. To do so, the little antelope manoeuvres the tip of a twig into the gland, which coats it in a black tarry smear. Apparently it smells sickly sweet!

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A flexible coat

Although the klipspringer’s coat is thick and dense, it is unusual in that the hairs are hollow. But therein lies the genius. The hollow nature makes it possible to trap a layer of air against the skin, providing ideal insulation against cold or hot weather.

Not a big drinker

Did you know that the klipspringer doesn’t need a permanent source of drinking water? In part that’s thanks to its efficient coat, which means it doesn’t have to drink water to cool down. Its kidneys are also extremely efficient and it doesn’t lose a lot of moisture through urine. In fact, it can get enough moisture from the succulent plants it eats.

Follow Marli’s adventures on her Facebook and Instagram pages.

Additional sources: Wild Ways. Peter Apps. 2014. Random House Struik; The habitat and feeding ecology of the klipspringer by Peter Maurice Norton.