Many local residents have seen this photograph on social media. It is a Marshall eagle with its newly caught prey – a Cape grysbok. The photograph was taken by a camera trap set up by the Landmark Foundation to track leopards in the Klein River Mountains.

Although the Cape grysbok’s name means ‘grey antelope’ they are not grey, but rather a grizzled red. This small, shy and usually solitary antelope has large ears and big, expressive ‘Bambi’ eyes. The male Cape grysbok has short, sharp horns.

If an eagle – even a big one like the Marshall – can prey on an antelope, rather than a dassie, that antelope must be quite small. And so it is. According to my research, the Cape grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis) is a small antelope at only about 50 cm at the shoulder, weighing around 10 kg.

The species is endemic to South Africa’s Fynbos Biome of the Western and Eastern Cape. It is relatively common but rarely seen, as it is very wary and avoids human contact whenever possible.

The Cape grysbok prefers to browse on open plains near the shelter of thickets and dense shrubs that can provide natural cover from predators. The one that fell prey to the eagle had probably wandered too far from shelter in its browsing – and ventured out during daylight, when they normally browse at night to avoid this very fate.

Cape grysbok have stout bodies and short, relatively delicate legs. This antelope’s front legs are shorter than its back legs, giving the animal a sloping appearance.

Although they are called ‘grey antelope’ they are not grey, but rather a grizzled red. The coarse fur on the grysbok’s back and sides is a mingling of red and white hair, while its underside is a lighter colour. They have large ears and big, expressive ‘Bambi’ eyes. The males have short, sharp horns.

The main feature that distinguishes the Cape grysbok from other grysbok and small antelope species like duiker and klipspringer, is a set of black ‘false hooves’ above the real hooves on its hind legs.

Cape grysbok are browsers, eating grass and the leaves of bushes, trees and vines, as well as fruit. They adapt pretty readily to habitat changes, which can sometimes lead them into trouble, especially when they decide to visit farms. Their nibbling on fruits in orchards and shoots of vines in vineyards has made them rather unpopular in some areas.

Grysbokke are typically solitary in nature, only coming together for mating. Females give birth to a single lamb in summer after a gestation period of about six months. Males are territorial and mark their territory by means of scent markers from glands just in front of their eyes to warn other males to stay away.

Because the Cape grysbok is small, it is easy prey for many animals, including jackals and leopards, as well as large birds of prey and snakes. Habitat destruction by humans is another problem they face.

Who does not remember ‘Bambi’, the little grysbok that was injured in the Betty’s Bay fire of January 2019? The young antelope sustained severe burns to its hooves. We all cheered when Bambi seemed to rally under expert veterinary care. But sadly, the injuries proved to be too severe and he didn’t make it.

Sadly, not all of my research is positive. Disturbingly, I found many websites promoting trophy hunting in South Africa. The targets include the Cape grysbok. The price for bagging a little ‘Bambi’ is on request, but the similar Sharpe’s grysbok will cost you $2 200. There is even an outfit that markets hunting of the ‘tiny ten’ small antelope, which include grysbok, steenbok, klipspringer, dik-dik and oribi.

To quote the marketing: “The Tiny Ten is a group of pygmy antelope residing in southern Africa. They are extremely small, all of them weighing less than 25 kilograms. These animals are so delicate and present a very small target. Due to their size, habitat and wary nature, hunting these animals is no mean feat.”

And another: “Trophy hunting for Cape grysbok is for the hunter who wants to chase a unique and rare wild species.”

I really despair of humans who can look at a grysbokkie and then kill it for fun.

Inspiring stories of our natural world

Whale Coast Conservation is offering a new webinar series for the next six weeks. Everyone is invited to join WCC every Thursday evening at 18:00, to journey vicariously through the engaging stories and images shared by inspiring and knowledgeable speakers, showcasing the beauty and wonder of our natural world. 

The first Zoom talk in this six-week series, on Thursday 25 June, deals with the paradox of elephant conservation. There is fierce debate in the media over whether to cull or not to cull. Dr Laurence Kruger will discuss some of the challenges of elephant conservation in the Kruger National Park.

Participants need to register only once for the whole series of six free talks, and registration can be done any time over the course of the series by following this link:

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