Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel

Antidorcas marsupialis stands about 80 cm high and is able to run up to 90 km/hour.

It is also able to leap 3.5 m high and stot, pronk or jump 15 m. Hell, I wish I could do that. But I am not a Springbok.

© Karoline Hanks

The ‘marsupialis bit of the Springbok’s latin name refers to the blind fold or pocket-like arrangement that stretches from its tail to the middle of its back. So why, you may well ask, is there this need for a Kangaroo-like pouch on an antelope in Africa? And what on earth is it doing on its back?

We found the answer to this vexing question on a particularly good game drive from Nossob camp on our last trip to the Kgalagadi. Melissa (ranger/game driver) was at the helm. She shared so many amazing stories and through this, managed to turn the usually mundane into the extraordinary. This is a real art – and distinguishes the wheat from the chaff when it comes to rangers on night drives in the bush.

The story is thus: When the male Springbok is trying to show off his infinite strength and prowess before a gaggle of females, he will adopt a stiff-legged trot and every now and again jump into the air with his back arched. Every few paces or so, he will then lift his little hidden crest/pouch affair, which will cause the white hairs to stand up in a classic fan shape.

At the same time, a very strong scent of rank sweat is emitted.

© Karoline Hanks

This, of course, is guaranteed to coax even the shiest of Springbok females out from behind the camel thorn tree. I mean really, wouldn’t you?

The whole performance is dubbed ‘pronking’ and it stems from the Afrikaans word – to boast or show off.

Another theory is that pronking is a way for these animals to show that they know they have been spotted by a predator and that they are now showing off their supreme fitness and strength. In this way (they reckon) the predator should thus be encouraged to rather go off and find someone else who cannot jump as high/far/elegantly with the same degree of stinky, sweaty white bum fluff as they can.

All very complex.

Whatever the reason, they always make it look as though they’re having a whale of a time. And one hopes that they are!

Shenton Safaris
Karoline Hanks

I am a freelance editor/writer, ultra-distance trail runner and mother of one. My passion for the natural world and a desire to fix all that we are doing to it runs deep. In my twenties I travelled fairly extensively in southern Africa. Before varsity, I headed off to Malawi to work as a 'travelling chef' . In the early 90s, I spent about 6 very happy months working on the Zambezi/Chobe Rivers as chef-cum-guide. I am happiest when running, hiking or cycling up or down a mountain, or in big open spaces and wilderness areas, away from the madness of the city. In my freelance work, I write predominantly for school kids and almost always about matters environmental. I have an overriding interest in species, habitat loss and in looking at ways to live 'lightly'. Through my writing, I hope to whip up a desire to shift behaviour and to help people see the connections between all that they do and how the earth copes (or does not cope!)