10 January 2012 by Julienne du Toit

The kangaroo buck

Zoologists will tell you that they know exactly why the springbok jumps. Supposedly it’s a kind of ‘you don’t scare me, and I can outrun you any day of the week’ kind of response to predators.

I always thought the springbok’s scientific name, Antidorcas marsupialis, mentioned marsupials because of the bouncy tendencies of both.

Just goes to show how bad my Latin is. Marsupialis, in fact, refers to the kind of pouch that runs from the middle of the back to the tail. When a springbok pronks, or stotts, this everts to display a fan of snowy white hair.

Not only that – it releases a kind of floral fragrance. Now what possible purpose can this serve? The springbok is carelessly flinging itself upwards nearly 4m at a time, leaping and landing repeatedly on the most delicate legs, usually on rocky and uneven ground. And topping that off with a lovely smell. You can only marvel.

They do a characteristic stiff-legged head-down trot, and then they launch themselves into the air again and again.

Pronking, incidentally, derives from an Afrikaans word that means to show off.

The zoologists will tell you that they know exactly why the springbok jumps. Supposedly it’s a kind of ‘you don’t scare me, and I can outrun you any day of the week’ kind of response to predators. They also tend to do it when excited or nervous.

But my only experience is of youngsters doing it, usually in the late afternoon, and I’ve yet to see them do it in the presence of predators. They do a characteristic stiff-legged head-down trot, and then they launch themselves into the air again and again, the white dorsal flag flying.

It has struck me every time as the purest expression of joy.

Category: Wildlife

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