The northern reaches of Londolozi are among my favourite places to explore whilst out on game drive. ‘The North’, as we like to call it, is home to some of the reserve’s most beautiful landscapes. Part of what makes the North so scenic is the abundance of the striking boulder strewn rocky outcrops, known as koppies. In addition to being picturesque in their own right, these koppies are home to some of the reserve’s most unique inhabitants – the humble klipspringer.
Due to the klipspringer’s unconventional habitat choice, many people are unfamiliar with them. Thus I have decided to share a few interesting facts about the klipspringer to help acquaint the reader with these special little animals.
In a nutshell, klipspringers are small antelope that have evolved to exploit a very specific ecological niche, namely boulder strewn rocky outcrops.
In order to successfully make the most of their chosen habitat, klipspringers have developed a few specific adaptations that help these one-of-a-kind antelope thrive in an otherwise inhospitable place.
1. Hooves – Traction Control
Klipspringers have very unique feet. Their hooves have been specially adapted to help them maneuver around the steep and slippery boulders where they spend the bulk of their time. Walking right on the tips of their hooves rather than using the entire surface area of the hoof. The tips of the hooves are cylindrical in shape with a grippy cartilaginous pad on the inside edge. The combination of the grippy pad and walking on the hoof-tips provide good traction and shock absorption allowing the klipspringers the ability to change direction quickly. The agility and speed of klipspringers help them to escape predators as well as access food and water that is inaccessible to other animals.
2. Fur – A Protective Outer-layer
Due to the fact that klipspringers live on exposed rocky outcrops, they are not sheltered from the elements as much as other animals are. Whether it is intense heat, high winds, heavy rain, or frigid cold, there is little escape from the elements on top of the koppies. Thus klipspringers have developed an ingenious solution to their problems – hollow fur. Klipspringer’s hollow fur act as an insulating layer that protects the little antelope from the outside conditions, helps to regulate their temperature, and conserves moisture. Some people also believe that the klipspringer fur acts as a shock absorber should they fall off a rock. While the ‘shock absorber theory’ may be debatable, the hollow fur definitely helps the klipspringers thrive in an otherwise harsh environment.
3. Life Partners
Klipspringers tend to form mating pairs that stay together for life. Finding a mate can be a difficult exercise, for these mountaineers, as they are not well suited to traversing the areas that surround rocky outcrops in search of a mate. Constantly moving between the koppies puts the little klipspringers at risk, therefore it makes sense for them to find one partner and live with them in one location for life. Once klipspringers have secured a mate and a territory, they can dedicate their energy to raising young and defending their little patch of land. Together the pair of klipspringers will mark, patrol, and defend their territory. Although unusual in the animal kingdom, klipspringers are a great example of how finding a mate for life is a very effective survival strategy indeed.
4. Resourceful Diet
Rocky outcrops are not well known for their fertile soil, abounding in lush and nutritious vegetation. The kinds of plants that grow on these koppies need to be hardy in order to survive the harsh elements and difficult turf. In order for klipspringers to get satisfy their nutritional needs from the available vegetation, they have been forced to adapt. Klipspringers will nibble on any leaves on offer on top of the koppie, including plants such as the toxic euphorbia tree. Klipspringers can also stand on their back legs in order to access tough to reach leaves. Also supplementing their diets by nibbling on old bones and soil such that they ingest the necessary minerals that the plants lack. In addition to their unique diet, they have adapted to survive without much water. Most of a klipspringer’s moisture is obtained from the food they eat, although they will drink from pools of water when available.
5. Predator Prevention
One of the biggest advantages to the klipspringer’s unique habitat is that it makes any predators hunting attempts very difficult. Klipspringers will easily flee from almost any predator that attempts to hunt them on their home turf. Additionally, the high rocky outcrops provide a great vantage point for the klipspringers to scan for danger. Once a potential threat has been located, the klipspringers give off a piercing whistle-like alarm call in order to alert each other to the threat. The alarm call can be heard from far away so even the predator itself will be alerted to fact that its cover has been blown.
Klipspringers are truly a marvel of creation. Their unique adaptations have allowed them to thrive in an area where few others can even survive. Despite their preferred habitat being limited, their population numbers are as good as ever. Hopefully, this blog has provided some insight into these special little creatures and again highlighted the genius that abounds in the natural world.