Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)

Springbok / Springbuck

Antidorcas marsupialis (Zimmerman, 1780)

Springbok duel

Photo: Doug Lee

isiNdebele:Ipala / Impala

IUCN Conservation Status:

Lower Risk, conservation dependent (LR/cd).

Legendary “trek-bok” or migration buck due to historic, sporadic mass movements through the Karoo, Namaqualand and Kalahari, that involved millions of springbok forming colonies of several kilometres in diameter. Scully, a magistrate from Namaqualand tells of a springbok migration in 1915 that went over the mountains towards the west coast, ending at the shore where the buck drowned in their thousands and stacked, rotten carcasses covered the beach for a stretch of 48 km. In 1925, Cronwright-Schreiner wrote of a massive springbok aggregation measuring 100 x 15 miles. Similar, but smaller “great treks” were documented in 1946, 1950, 1957 and 1959.




Only one species, with three sub-species:

  • Antidorcas marsupialis marsupialis the southern or Cape springbok to the south of the Orange and Vaal River
  • A.m. hofmeyri the Kalahari springbok of southern Namibia, Botswana and the north-western parts of South Africa
  • A.m. angolensis the Angolan springbok of northern Namibia and southern Angola.

Attempts to increase body size by crossing northern springbok with the southern gave varying results in different regions. Ranchers in the arid Karoo claimed that such attempts worked and the offspring were large. In the more temperate savannah environments further to the southeast, the offspring were initially larger but after 2-3 years of breeding became smaller until they had reverted to the smaller body size of the southern springbok. The introduction of the larger, black (melanistic) springbok to the south was more successful with a sustained production of offspring with a larger build. Offspring of black and common springbok are either totally black or the usual springbok colouring; they are seldom a mixture. Three colour varieties have been bred from the common springbok namely, the white, black and copper. The white variety is further divided into an albinistic form with black horns and pink eyes, and a true white form with whitish-brown horns and black eyes. The latter is of greater commercial value than the albinistic form. None of these springbok forms have been recognised as sub-species and are regarded as colour varieties. Continued crossbreeding between the colour variants will eventually retain the original natural colour of springbok.


The name springbok is derived from their regular, hopping jumps and the species name marsupialis from “marsupium”, a pouch, referring to the dorsal fan of 10-17 cm high white hair on the saddle, which is pulled flat into a pouch, covered by short brown hair of 1.5-2 cm. When jumping, the back is characteristically arched with the head held low to the level of the knees. Single jumps during a run can reach a height of 2.6 m. A light, slender build, medium sized antelope with a thin bone structure. The buttocks being higher than the back. Natural colour is a bright, cinnamon-brown pelage on the back, a dark chestnut-brown stripe along the flanks, pure white under parts, and distinct, dark brown stripes on the sides of the white face.

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Comparison To Man

Wildlife Ranching Springbok comparison to man


Both sexes bear well developed, lyre-shaped horns, which are parallel at the base, project upwards and slightly backwards, and turn sharply towards each other at the tips, forming two hooks. It is heavily grooved for 60-75% of the length. The horns of ewes are thinner, straighter and further apart at the base than those of the rams. Trophies can exceed 40 cm and reach full development at an age of 20 months.

Habitat requirement

The preferred habitat is arid environments, dry grassy flats, Karoo scrub, salty pans, dune pathways, dry river beds and semi-desert shrubland. The broadleaf, sweet, short grasses surrounding water pans are favoured.

The most important parameters are:

  • the availability of perennial short, sweet-grasses and forbs
  • woody scrub with a high mineral content
  • sandy soil
  • a low shrub density
  • an annual rainfall of 50-450 mm.

Dense thicket, closed woodland, rocky surfaces, mountainous areas, forests, tall-grass stands and moist, alluvial clay soils are avoided and not suitable. Surface drinking water is not essential. Springbok introduced into the Free State and the Eastern Cape have adapted to a wider spectrum of marginal habitats. These introductions are known to go through a repeated process of flourishing for 3-5 years and then a sudden population crash.


Wildlife Ranching Springbok distribution maps

Feeding & Nutrition

Springbok are diurnal and are most active in the early morning, the late afternoon and the early, dark evening hours. Hot, midday hours are mostly spent lying down or standing ruminating. They are highly selective, concentrate, mixed-feeders that consume short sweet-grass (0.5-6 cm), forbs, succulents and browse. Grasses and forbs form the bulk of the diet during the moist summer, and browse and succulents during dry winter. Springbok cannot tolerate the high crude fibre content found in most grasses during winter, or in sour-grasses. The most important food criteria are: nutrient quality, palatability and digestibility of plant matter. Springbok require a considerable diversity of plant species in their diet in order to sustain their high energy needs during the dry winter months. Studies in the North West Province revealed 68 plant species in the diet, and in the Kalahari, 57 species. Daily water need is 1-1.5 litre of moisture, which is mostly obtained from the diet. Fog and dew are licked from stones and the surface of vegetative material in early morning. Springbok can also super concentrate their urine by reabsorbing most of their consumed water.

Social structure

Springbok are social and gregarious. They form several family groups of 5-100 individuals during dry winter periods and aggregate into temporary mass herds in summer. A family herd consists of adult ewes, sub-adult females and juveniles of both sexes. Adult rams become territorial only during the rut; alternatively they join family herds or become solitary nomads. Family herds pass through several different ram territories during one mating season. Year-old sub-adult rams leave the family herd to form temporarily bachelor herds. Apart from their “treks”, family herds tend to stay in a fixed home range. Individuals tend to keep a distance between each other and have little bodily contact. They groom themselves. Springbok do not readily associate with other game species. Lambs join crèches for the first three weeks after birth and then follow the family herd. With optimal climatic conditions a ewe can produce one lamb every eight months or three lambs in two years. Adult body size is reached at 18-20 months

Springbok herd in Kgalagadi

Photo: Doug Lee

Some minor, nomadic populations still exist but are rare. These “trek-springbok” are not confined by livestock fences and jump, crawl under or break any fence in their path. Commercial herds on game farms are content to remain enclosed and have a totally different behavioural pattern that may indicate the beginning of domestication. Farmers regard “trek-springbok” as problem animals that interfere with general livestock management.


Susceptive to most tropical diseases, in particular to heartwater. About 4-8% of a population can become resistant to heartwater when translocated. Do not translocate springbok from non-heartwater areas to heartwater areas, but rather purchase more expensive pre-resistant animals from a heartwater area, for ranches where heartwater is endemic. Endo-parasites may occasionally build up in springbok populations introduced into marginal habitats and cause population crashes.

Information Table

Southern Springbok information table
Adult body weightkg33-4830-44
Adult shoulder heightcm7570
Expected longevityyears8-108-10
Age of sexual maturitymonths11-126-12
Age of social adulthood (1st mating)months3010-12
Gestationdays 165-180
1st lamb born atmonths 16-18
Lambing intervalmonths 8-14
Post maturity age (last mating)years--
Rutting seasonYear round
Lambing season: Year round (Peak Jul-Jan)
Weaning agemonths3
Gender ratio: natural (all ages)11.3
Gender ratio: production (all ages)11.8
Mating ratio: natural (adults)13
Mating ratio: production (adults)15-8
Re-establishment: absolute minimum number needed23
Re-establishment: smallest viable population size512
Spatial behaviour: home rangeha100300-800
Spatial behaviour: territory rangeha2-6None
Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):
0.15 per animal
(32% of diet)
0.15 per animal
(32% of diet)
Browsing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio: (browse):
BU0.37 per Animal
(68% of diet)
0.37 per Animal
(68% of diet)
Maximum stocking load450 Animals Per 1000 ha (At 250-350 mm Annual Rainfall)
Minimum habitat size requiredha100
Annual population growth28-45% (mean 33%)
Optimal annual rainfall150-350 mm
Optimal vegetation structure:
Grass height:
Woody canopy cover:

0.5-6 cm


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