The springbok is the only true gazelle in southern Africa. They are small, highly migratory browsers who tend to feed on the best food they can find – small green shoots after the rains and flowers and buds when those run out. They can go a long time without drinking as long as their food contains at least 10% water, so they’re especially suited for the arid environment down here.
They are smaller than impalas and I’m partial to them – like the gemsbok, they’re decked out in perfect neutrals: black, white, and cinnamon. I like to photograph them and I think that they look as good in monochrome as they do in full color.
The first time we ever saw one was in Namibia, and he pronked when he saw us. Pronking is a form of stotting, which is high jumping common among small antelope, but pronking is spectacular. Springbok can pronk up to ten feet straight into the air. They usually do this when they spot predators and, while we aren’t predators, we were mighty impressed. It is a way of them saying “yeah, I can jump ten feet straight up. I’m fit, and fast, and an all-around badass. Come at me, lions.” This behavior also communicates to other types of animals who happen to be around that predators are nearby. In almost totally flat landscapes, you can’t miss an antelope when it’s ten feet in the air.
We saw quite a few of them in Kgalagadi. Many of the females, who travel together, were pregnant. Males tend to live alone in areas that will attract females, such as stretches of riverbed.
That is where we found one lone male on our drive through the South African side of the Transfrontier Park. He was standing in the dry Nossob riverbed and, though he wasn’t pronking, he was highly alert because he was being stalked by three cheetahs. A mother and twin cubs were making their way towards him. Cars were lined up along the riverbed watching. He couldn’t see her, but he knew something was up. She crept up with studied patience, leaving the riverbed to sweep wide around to get closer. While she studied him, her cubs studied her.
The springbok stood there, flank twitching, ears alert, scanning, scanning. Every now and then he’d move himself down the riverbed, just a bit further out of reach. I have to say, as much as I would have loved to have seen those cheetahs run, I felt bad for the guy – all these people hanging out of cars hoping that he’d get it. He figured out what was going on while the cheetahs were still a ways off and managed to sprint out of there (they can run up to 88km/hr) – living to die another day.