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Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi (Blesbok)

blesbok [Afrikaans]; Blessbock [German]; blesbok [French]; inoni [isiNdebele]; ilinqa [isiXhosa]; inoni [isiZulu]; nônê [Sepedi] [Setswana]; nônê, nônô [Sesotho]; liloni [siSwati;]; noni [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

Blesbok. [photo Jim Scarff ©]

Blesbok calf. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]

Blesbok is endemic to the Grassland Biome of southern Africa where it is a grazer, mainly on shorter grass. Social structure consists of territorial males, female herds and bachelor herds but in winter they form into large mixed herds.


Blesbok 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. Blesbok have a reddish-brown body colour, without the high gloss that is typical of the bontebok’s coat. The distinctive white blaze on their face is usually broken by a brown band (unlike the bontebok) between the eyes. The limbs and the rump are pale cream in colour but rarely 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 and usually straw-coloured on the upper surface, the ram’s are thicker than the ewe. 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, females, calves and bachelor males all apply this secretion to grass stems and 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

Natural distribution throughout the Grassland Biome in southern Africa, including the Free State, Eastern Cape, North West, Guateng,  Mpumalanga and the western edge of Kwazulu-Natal. Habitat preference is for open plateau grassland with water available.

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 blesbok herds characteristically orientate themselves towards the sun with their heads bowed. Like the bontebok their social structure consists of territorial males, female herds and bachelor groups. The territorial males establish and hold a mosaic of territories, they challenge intruders with displays to show their dominance. Serious fighting between males is rare, 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 together, 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 males areas they normally avoid any challenges and simply move on. Unlike the bontebok the herd structure does not remain the same throughout the year. In the dry winter months the home ranges alter as the antelope come together in large mixed herds.


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


The gestation period is about 240 days. Lambs are born during November to January, with a peak in December. 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, maybe separating at about 2 years old.

Life span

21 years (in captivity)


This species is endemic to South Africa. Historically they were heavily hunted. They became extinct in Kwazulu-Natal and their numbers reduced to less than 2000 animals in the late nineteenth century. With numerous re-introductions and introductions to areas not previously within their natural range the population has recovered well. Although their current distribution is more extensive it is essentially artificial as it is limited to fenced farms, game-farms, nature reserves and game parks. As they can cross breed with bontebok and produce fertile offspring it is important that the populations of the two species are isolated from each other for effective conservation.

Text by Denise Hamerton