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LLike the black wildebeest, the riverine rabbit and the blue crane, the grey rhebok is found only in South Africa.
This endemic antelope is not threatened or endangered, but it is remarkably elusive and quite difficult to see. Part of the reason is its alertness and tendency to move away from any potential danger. The other reason is its good camouflage of buffy fawn and white colouring. Grey rheboks just blend into their favourite habitat, the montane grasslands.
It has no close relatives, but its appearance and thick woolly fur has led to some speculation that it may be distantly linked to the ancestors of modern-day sheep. At a quick glance, it can look a little like a streamlined, horned llama, one with narrow, upright ears, a long thin neck, big eyes and a bulbous nose.
But don’t let the grey rhebok’s fey colours fool you into thinking they are bland or uninteresting. The males are armed with deadly little stiletto horns, so much so that territorial fights are rare, presumably because they would so often result in death.
As with many other animals, territorial disputes are settled with highly ritualised snorting, stamping and stotting (high jumping) and sometimes by horning the ground.
If the dispute escalates to the next level, the males engage in mock fights, or what one expert described as an ‘air-cushion fight’.
They rush towards one another but stop about a metre apart and vigorously stab the air. Both males usually live to see another day.
Fights, of course, are usually over territory or females. During disputes over territory, males will snort, leap into the air, pose while standing as tall as possible, hiss and groan.
The best places to see grey rhebok (also sometimes called Vaal ribbok) are in various Cape Nature reserves, the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West and private game reserves in the area like Schanskraal and Samara. They also have a major stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal’s Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park.
If you're lucky, you could also see them in the Table Mountain National Park, sometimes within sight of the sea.
Keep a sharp eye out for their distinctive rocking horse canter and their white fluffy tails.
TTravel tips & planning info
How to get here
Grey rhebok are most easily seen in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, from Giant’s Castle to Bushman’s Nek. This is their perfect habitat – well-watered montane grassland.
Best time to visit
In early summer (September to November), the grasslands are at their most beautiful and green, and this is when the grey rhebok females will discreetly leave the herd to give birth. Look out for babies around this time.
What it will cost
National and provincial parks in South Africa are less expensive than private reserves.
What to pack
You’ll need a good pair of binoculars to spot this well-camouflaged, cautious antelope. You’ll mostly see single males or small family groups. Take a camera with a good zoom lens if you can.
Where to stay
Ezemvelo parks in KwaZulu-Natal have excellent accommodation, most of it self-catering. The Karoo National Park is also lovely to stay in, and is a good place to stop overnight if you are driving between Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- South African National Parks (SANParks)
- Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife
- Samara Private Game Reserve