16 August 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Bontebok can’t jump. Thank goodness.

While stumbling about the Internet recently, I came across mention of a certain memorial in the Overberg, near the southern Cape fishing village of Arniston.

It is nothing much more than a fence, but it is a fence that came between the beautiful bontebok antelope and extinction.

By the mid 1830s, the blue buck had already been extinct for just over 35 years, and the bontebok, which occurred mostly in the same area around Swellendam and Bredasdorp, seemed headed for the same fate.

Overhunted and unprotected, there were barely 17 left when local families - the Van Breda’s, the Van der Bijl’s and the Albertyn’s - erected fences to protect them.

They weren’t those high game fences you see these days. In fact the fence only needed to be waist high because bontebok have a strange athletic deficiency. Like elephants, they cannot jump. They can crawl under obstacles, they can sprint as well as the next buck, but they cannot jump.

Kudu, on the other hand, can gracefully jump over obstacles 2 metres high or more from a standstill. Eland, which weigh from 750kg to a ton, can do the same. Springbok and impala leap prodigious heights and distances just for sport.

How remarkable that these 3 families saved an entire species at a time when killing the last specimen was considered a rather prestigious thing. Now bontebok numbers have increased to 3 500.

Nowadays, you can see these lovely antelope in their stronghold at the Bontebok National Park just outside Swellendam.

But next time I’m in the area, I’ll be taking the road between Arniston and Bredasdorp. The Old Bontebok Fence still stands there, apparently, a remnant of what was erected by Alexander van der Bijl. What a debt of gratitude we owe to this man and his neighbours.

Category: Wildlife

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