Often seen only for a few seconds or as a fleeting glimpse as they dart off into the distance. The tiny Steenbok uses a wise defence technique to avoid being caught. Immediately freezing as soon as it senses a threat, holding dead still until the last second before dashing off quicker than you can imagine, pausing momentarily to glance back to see if they are being persued and then dashing off again to safety. It is because of this light-footedness that not many people know too much about this little animal, so here is just a brief glimpse into the secret life of a steenbok.
The name Steenbok originates from the Afrikaans word ‘steen’ which means stone, this is because of the reddish-brown colouring of the small shy animal. And ‘bok’ when directly translated from Afrikaans is ’buck’ which is what we here in South Africa refer to as an antelope or deer of either sex.
As one can imagine with the tiny size of the mother, the newborn steenbok weighs just 900 grams (1.9 pounds) and can stand up within five minutes of birth. Being born into a world full of hungry predators, something this small would be incredibly vulnerable, which they are. For the first three months of their lives, they are kept hidden in thicker vegetation while the mother goes out to feed, returning daily to groom and nurse the lamb. Should there be any disturbance around its hiding place it will lie flat with its ears pinned back and head on the ground and remain as still as possible. It is for this reason that it is very rare to see a steenbok lamb.
Eventually around the three-month mark, the lamb would have been weaned and will start to move around with its mother, to browse on leaves, flowers, fruits, berries, seeds and even dig for bulbs, because they get most of their moisture from the food they eat, they are not dependent on water and will only drink if they happen to come across water.
Although it is very seldom that you see them together, they are thought to be monogamous, forming life-long bonds and hold territories together. Males will mark their territories using the preorbital glands on their faces as well as glands between their hooves. In order to communicate with each other, both males and females will use latrines, where they scrape a hole in the ground, urinate and defecate in it then cover it with soil, also thought to be a way of marking their territories.
So in hardly ever finding two steenboks together, this plays to their advantage in avoiding being detected by danger, if they are by themselves they are able to freeze and bolt when needed without being caught. In fact, I am sure it does happen but I don’t think I can ever recall a case where a ranger has found a leopard having caught, killed and hoisted a Steenbok, highlighting just how well their strategy can work. So next time you are in the grasslands of Londolozi or driving along one of the open crests keep a look out for this secretive little animal.