The Blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi)

  • September 17, 2020

The Blesbok is a species of antelope which is endemic to Southern Africa. 

The Blesbok is a subspecies of the Bontebok. This species has two subspecies, the Blesbok and the Bontebok. They both have very similar white Blaze markings on their faces but the Bontebok’s white blaze above the eyes does not meet the white on its face and is broken by a brown band between its eyes, and a white belly and rump.

The Blesbok has a reddish-brown coat back but lacks the purple gloss seen with Bontebok. The Bontebok also has a lighter brown coat on its shoulders and back, almost like a saddle. The Bontebok’s legs are also a lot darker. This species can weigh up to 85 kg. Females usually weigh around 60kgs and males around 70kg. Both males and females have horns that are dark and ringed from the base to the tips. 

Front Center: Male Blesbok with a strong set of horns
Back Left: Juvenile Blesbok with small horns
Back Right: Female Blesbok with slender horns

Geographical Range:
The Blesbok’s geographical range covers much of South Africa except for the South-Western region of the Cape, where the Bontebok is found exclusively in Fynbos and Renosterveld Biomes. The Blesbok is also found in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and Eswatini (Swaziland). They can be found up to 2000 masl. 

Natural Habitat:
Blesbok’s natural habitat consists predominantly Highveld grasslands, and shrubland or bushveld. 

This is a relatively quick species of Antelope and can run at speeds up to 70 km/h. Rams and ewes are very similar in appearance but the females’ horns are more slender.  

Blesbok’s Lifespan:
The Blesbok’s lifespan is around 15 years in the wild and the leading cause of their death is predation from carnivores. 

This is exclusively a grazing species of antelope and they prefer to feed on short green grass and recently burnt veld. They need to drink water to digest the grass that they eat and thus are usually found within 1,5 km of water, especially during the dry season. 

A Blesbok eating short green grass after a recent veld fire.

Their Predators:
The Blesbok’s main predators include Leopards, Lions, Cheetahs, African Wild Dogs, Spotted Hyenas, and Humans. Jackals and Eagles are also known to attack their calves.

The Blesbok’s breeding rut is from March to May and the calves are born in late spring, during the rainy season in November and December. Pregnant females have a gestation period of around 8 months (240 days).

Collective Pronoun and name:
A group of Blesbok is called a herd. The name Blesbok is Afrikaans for “Blaze Buck.” because of the white coloration on their faces that resembles the blazes on horses.

Taxonomy and Hybridisation
Hybridization between Blesbok is a priority issue in this species and there are now believed to be thousands of hybrids between the two subspecies. They have also recently been intensely bred for different color variants.

Conservation Status:
Hybridization between these two species threatens the survival of these two distinct subspecies. Other threats include hunting, habitat loss, the skin trade, and muti trade. 

The Blesbok is classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and the Bontebok is classified as vulnerable.

Population Size: 
There are around 78,000 Blesbok in the wild today and their numbers are increasing. On the other hand, there are only 752-1,618 Bontebok left in the wild today. 

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