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Damaliscus pygargus pygargus (Bontebok)

bontebok [Afrikaans]; Buntbock [German]; bontebok [French]; pitsi ya maronthonthwane [Sepedi]; inyamatane [siSwati]; nglangu [Xitsonga]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Cetartiodactyla (even-toed ungulates and cetaceans) > Ruminantia (ruminants) > Family: Bovidae (antelopes and buffalo) > Subfamily: Antilopinae

Damaliscus pygargus pygargus (Bontebok) Damaliscus pygargus pygargus (Bontebok)

Bontebok, Bontebok National Park, South Africa.. [photos Coke Smith ]

Damaliscus pygargus pygargus (Bontebok)

Bontebok, Bontebok National Park, South Africa.. [photo Jim Scarff ]

This subspecies of Damaliscus pygargus is endemic to the fynbos with its original distribution lying on the fynbos plains from the Agulhas plain  through to about Mossel Bay. It was once near extinction but is well-protected now. Social structure consists of territorial males, female herds and bachelor herds. They graze mainly on short grass but also occasionally browse.


Bontebok is a medium sized antelope similar in body shape to the other hartebeests and the Tsessebe. They have long pointed heads with lyre shaped horns and the shoulder is higher than the rump. Bontebok have a rich glossy dark brown body colour, they are darker on the flanks and upper parts of the limbs. The distinctive white blaze on their face is usually continuous (unlike the Blesbok, which is regarded as the same species but a different subspecies) narrowing between the eyes. The limbs and the rump are white. The ears are a slightly lighter brown than the rest of the body. The tail is white for about half its length, the remainder being dark brown with long black hair on the tip. Both sexes have black horns that are ringed on the upper surface, the ewe’s are more slender than the ram. Preorbital glands are present in both sexes but well-developed in the male. They exude a sticky secretion that makes tear marks down the animals face. Territorial rams apply this secretion to grass stems and also appear to transfer it back to their horns from the grass.


Height at shoulder 95 cm; horn length 31 cm; weight 70 kg (male) and 60 kg (female)

Dental formula

I CPM = 32

Distribution and habitat

Historical distribution was restricted to Bredasdorp and Mossel Bay areas of the Western Cape. Now conserved on several reserves and private farms in the Western Cape. Its preferred habitat is Cape fynbos coastal plain vegetation with grass, water and some shrub cover.

General behaviour

They are active during the day (diurnal), but activity levels do drop during the hotter parts of the day. During the heat of the day bontebok herds characteristically orientate themselves towards the sun with their heads bowed. The social structure consists of territorial males, female herds and bachelor groups. The territorial males establish and hold a mosaic of territories, and they challenge intruders by displays to show their dominance. Serious fighting between males is rare but challenging males may engage in fierce pushing contests where they drop to their knees with their foreheads close to the ground and push and feint at each other, occasionally clashing or locking horns. These mostly ritualized encounters are usually short and the loser with give up and move off. The males try to hold females within their territories by courting them. Female herds consist of a maximum of about 8 animals, composed of females and their young. Bachelor herds are much larger and looser groupings consisting of males of all ages from yearlings to old males. While they do move through territorial male areas they normally avoid any challenges and simply move on.


Bontebok are grazers with a preference for shorter grass, but will occasionally browse.


Gestation period is about 240 days. Bontebok lambs are born during September – October although some may be dropped as late as February. Usually single lambs are born but occasionally twins. At birth the lambs are pale beige to cream in colour and can run with their mother within 30 minutes of birth. Young males leave their mother after a year when the next offspring is born, but females will remain with their mothers as members of the herd. Life span: 15 years (in captivity)


This subspecies is endemic to the Western Cape and the fynbos biome. After near extinction the first steps of its conservation were taken in 1837 with a nucleus of 27 animals on a private farm. In 1931 the first Bontebok National Park was proclaimed, but in 1961, 84 bontebok were moved to a new and more suitable site near Swellendam. Further successful conservation on private farms and conservancies has resulted in a current population estimated at around 2300 animals. Their conservation status is listed as vulnerable, and their continued existence is dependent on effective protection and conservation. As they can cross breed with Blesbok it is important that the populations of the two subspecies are isolated from each other for effective conservation.

Text by Denise Hamerton