The northern parts of Londolozi on the other side of the Sand River is one of my favourite places to explore. The terrain is different to the rest of the reserve with a lot of beautiful rocky outcrops and the meandering Manyelethi river to investigate, and there is also one particular animal that we only ever really see in those parts; the Klipspringer.
This diminutive little antelope only weighs between 10-15kg, and having adapted to live in rocky hills and outcrops it has developed some very interesting features which differentiate it from all of the other antelope that we see on the reserve.
Klipspringers actually walk on the tips of their hooves and because of this they leave a unique track when they do walk on softer ground. Their hooves are cylindrical with blunt tips, and just inside the edge of the hoof is a softer cartilaginous pad. These features mean that the Klipspringer can hop from rock to rock with such ease that even steep rock faces pose no problem. The hooves provide incredible traction, absorb the shock of landing and make sure that the Klipspringer can turn on dime which makes them very hard to catch if you are a predator in their rocky environment. Granted, there aren’t all that many Klipspringers on the reserve, but we hardly ever see them being made a meal of.
The rocky areas where Klipspringers are found often experience quite substantial weather changes. These exposed areas can go from being extremely hot to extremely cold in different times of the year. The Klipspringer has adapted to this through its fur. Each strand is hollow, flattened and springy. This really helps them regulate their body temperature by providing insulation and conserving moisture loss during hot and cold times. The hollow fur also has the added advantage of providing a little bit of cushioning should the Klipspringer fall on the rocks it is jumping on.
The colour of their coat also enables them to blend into their surroundings effectively. Overall, they have a golden tinge to their coat but it does not have a uniform appearance and looks a bit rough. In between all the paler hairs with golden tips are darker strands of hair which when put together provides great camouflage especially in these rocky areas.
It is quite rare in mammals for males and females of a species to form a monogamous breeding pair. In fact, only about 5% of mammals do this. Klipspringers are one of them. Due to the nature of their habitat, the areas in which you find them are often islands isolated by large areas of unsuitable habitat. It could therefore be extremely difficult and dangerous to risk traversing these areas to find a mate. Therefore, once they do find a mate they stay together for life and the energy that they would have used to keep on finding new mates can rather be used to defend their territory and raise their young.
They will defend their territory together by striking tall, statue like poses on some of the higher rocks which would hopefully deter any intruders. They demarcate their territories by leaving dung piles throughout the area but mostly along the boundaries. They also have two black slits (preorbital glands) on their face which allows them to deposit secretions on leaves and branches which would let others know that this area is taken.
Having said this, Klipspringers can sometimes be less aggressive to their own and in some areas you can find temporary associations of a number of different family groups.
Klipspringers are browsing antelope that forage from a variety of different plants found in their habitat. They can stand on their hind legs to get to otherwise out of reach leaves which is a very useful trick in the rocky areas in which they live. They are not highly dependent on water but will drink from rock pools after rain.
Klipspringers, to me, epitomize the term adaptability. They have found a way to make an otherwise harsh and exposed environment their home and they make it look easy. I always love driving around the rocky areas of the north and spotting a Klipspringer standing seemingly resolute on top of the rocks. We as humans can definitely learn a thing or two from these unique antelope; even in the toughest of times we need to be willing to adapt and make the things around us work in our favour and not look at them as obstacles to growth.