I recently drove a seven day private photographic group where our mission was to photograph as many different species as possible. As we drove out of camp for each game drive, we would have set a game plan of what area we would explore in expectation of finding a particular animal. The geography of the Londolozi property means that we have an incredible diversity of habitat to explore. From the open savanna of the South West to the Maxabeni Drainage system in the east and of course the iconic and productive riverine section of the Sand River. Venture north of the River however and we find an interesting series of koppies (rocky outcrops) that form a straight line. When standing on top one of the higher koppies, this line can be seen running either west towards the foothills of the famous Drakensberg Mountains or east into the Kruger National Park.
This has formed from a dolerite intrusion that has slowed the weathering process of thousands of years leaving rocky granite outcrops dotted through the reserve. What is so special about this incredible geographic feature is the very finite habitat it creates. Trees such as Ficus and Commiphora species find the ideal substrate in which to grow. Specific birds such as Mocking Cliff Chats find their own niche in the Lowveld’s savanna, leopards secret their cubs in the safety of caves and crevices and then there is one very distinctive species of mammal that has adapted so well that it lives solely amongst these bolder strewn ridges: the klipspringer.
After having photographed most animal species, we ventured north in the hopes of capturing the elusive klipspringer. We started around Ximpalapala koppie, a beautiful natural sculpture of rock where I have viewed them before but to no avail. We then moved further east to Southern Cross Koppies and explored the rocky ridges along the Manyeleti River but no luck there either. Eventually, three days later, we had a wonderful sighting of three klipspringers on the rocky outcrops near Marthly Pools in golden afternoon light. As the sun then dropped behind the horizon, the female graced us with a silhouette.
This remarkable little antelope has evolved to their habitat to such a degree that they really do represent their namesake, which in Afrikaans literally does mean, “Rock jumper”. Their pedal prowess is made possible by incredibly well adapted feet. Standing on the very tips of their hooves, the slightly splayed and rounded edges allow for flexibility and stability as they skillfully maneuver over the rocky terrain. The inside ridge of the hoof has a cartilage padding, which acts as a shock absorber with each bound the klipspringer makes. The ‘salt and pepper’ colouration of the fur results in exceptional camouflage amongst the rocks while the structure of each follicle is hollow which aids in thermoregulation to combat the extreme temperature changes in their habitat. It also provides a degree of cushioning should the klipspringer fall against a rock.
Because these islands of rocks are rather isolated, monogamous pairs of klipspringer establish small but well-defined territories through dung piles and scent deposits from conspicuous pre-orbital glands situated next to the eye. We occasionally see small family groups together, but this only appears to be where browsing opportunities are best. Remaining at a higher vantage point, klipspringer do have an advantage of being able to see predators from further off but are still preyed upon mainly by leopard, hyena and even martial eagles.
The klipspringer’s isolated habitat, low density and incredible camouflage really make them a unique species to view: another marvel of adaptation and survival.
Have you seen klipspringer while on safari at Londolozi?
Written by: Andrea Campbell, Londolozi Ranger and Assistant Habitat Manager
Photographed by: Talley Smith, James Tyrrell, Amy Attenborough and Andrea Campbell – Londolozi Rangers