A number of towns in the Great Karoo – including Beaufort West – once witnessed the passing of a great herd of springbok through their streets. The phenomenon of the trekbokke (wandering antelope) died out at the end of the Victorian era once the hunters had decimated the great herds.

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After a trekbok migration, the veld was enriched by the churning of hooves and the springbok dung.

Cast your mind back to the mid-1700s in the heartland of South Africa – the Karoo.

Back then, the few colonial hunters wandering the grassy plains of the hinterland carried muskets – their impact on the vast herds of game crossing the Karoo was minimal.

In the distance, you hear a growing thunder. The earth beneath your feet begins to vibrate. It’s time to move to a high point of safety.

Within the hour, a sea of tans, blacks and flashes of white flows past you, in the form of perhaps a million springbok – the legendary trekbokke or trekbokken (Afrikaans and Dutch for 'migrating antelope') of the Karoo.

In a wildlife migration that would leave even Serengeti veterans awe-struck, wave upon wave of springbok would cross the veld, devouring all vegetation before them and putting all other forms of life to flight.

Travellers’ diary entries from that era speak of an ‘overwhelming noise’ as countless hooves created a dust storm. Once, in the Northern Cape town of Kenhardt, residents woke to the sound of the trekbokken as they passed through the settlement. By all accounts, there was much ‘porch hunting’ on that day.

It is believed that in times of plenty in the Karoo, springbok numbers increased dramatically. And when the ‘plenty’ dried up, the vast herds converged to look for pasture. And then, when the rains finally arrived, they would scatter throughout the Karoo once again.

The last recorded trekbok migration took place in 1896, but by then their numbers had been dramatically thinned out by ever-growing droves of hunters and meat-gatherers for the diamond- and goldfields of South Africa. A resource that was once thought to be infinite nearly gave out by the beginning of the 1900s.

However, game farming is today enjoying a boom in the Karoo and everywhere you go, you see small herds of springbok. Among them, they say, there are still individuals with the restless ‘trekbok gene’ in them – and they still cross fences from farm to farm, in search of sweet veld and good rainfall.

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