Springboks for the win14th Dec 2020
Five years ago, springbok were introduced to Kingswood and their numbers are growing. I chatted to Dan de Wet, Facilities and Compliance Manager, and Kingswood resident and former game farmer, Andries Vermeulen, about these beauties who are there for the benefit of all residents of the estate.
How the ’boks came to Kingswood
Nine years ago, Dan de Wet arrived from Port Elizabeth. He’d previously homed a herd of springbok on his smallholding to save them from drought-ravaged Kirkwood. When he saw springbok flourishing at Mossel Bay Golf Course, he realised that Kingswood would also be an ideal home for these emblematic antelope. And so he started the process by asking for the necessary permissions from the trustees, and applying to CapeNature for permits to move game. This is no easy task as the criteria are very strict.
Etienne Maree, a resident who also farms game in Uniondale, arranged for one ram and four ewes to come to the estate. They did very well on the northern side. Later, pro golfer Hennie Otto, who owns the Mossel Bay springbok with his father, donated two rams that formed a bachelor herd in the south. As younger rams will eventually push out dominant rams, it so happened that one of the rams took on the original ram and chased him away. The new ram subsequently sired quite a few youngsters.
A further request went out for a harem for the remaining ram. Hennie and his father contributed four ewes. The total herd has grown to 23 and, with the perfect conditions, we expect that number to increase before breeding season is over. Dan regularly receives reports of more additions to the herd and goes out to check on the new arrivals. He says it’s a privilege and a joy and, although they look very similar to most onlookers, he can pick out the individuals in the herd as he knows them so well.
Kingswood residents are very fond of these elegant antelope and often put out mineral licks and game pellets for them. The licks help to ensure that all nutritional needs are met, if there were to be anything missing in their diet. They do respond to being called – especially once they associate those calls with food. (Obviously it’s important that they aren’t fed anything that is not suited to them.)
How the ’boks adapted
The springbok are quite tame in the sense that they are not fazed by golf carts, traffic and walkers. They will, however, react very quickly to the sight (or scent) of dogs, and they immediately return to their default prey animal instinct by running away. It’s not ideal to have overly tame or handraised springbok included in the herd as they can become ‘too familiar’ and, obviously, their sharp horns can do terrible damage if in close proximity. For the most part, the springbok are relaxed, have plenty to eat and space to roam. Where estate living does limit them is when they fight. Rams are vicious when they go for one another and it’s important for them to have somewhere to run. That’s not always possible with buildings and fences in the way. Ultimately their welfare is Dan’s responsibility, and he checks on them every morning before work, and every evening afterwards.
‘Boks as assets
Although the Kingswood springboks are not simply there for breeding, they are an asset. It is the basis of game management where, if capacity is exceeded, animals may be sold or exchanged. The value in the springboks may be realised down the line by, for example, paying for the construction of a bird hide or some other asset by the sale of excess stock. As they are used to estate living, they are now an attractive asset for estates that may want to include them in their offering.
Plant protection tactics
The springbok, and their bushbuck cousins, are not averse to the delicious buds of proteas, roses and even spekboom. They will also gnaw bark from certain trees and then go and lie down and ruminate or chew the cud. The upside, Dan says encouragingly, is that many plants can handle a bit of pruning and come back stronger. But residents who are concerned that these lovely herbivores may eat their gardens can put up plant protection. Simple electrified fencing works well, as the springbok quickly learn that it’s not sensible to nuzzle the charged wires.
Losses, and wins
For sure there are sad events from time to time – it is the nature of animals. There have been a few losses to stillbirth, and Dan desperately tried to save a lamb that was rejected by its mother only to lose it to a congenital defect. The abandoned lamb’s mother obviously instinctively knew that the lamb would not make it, so she did what wild animals would do in nature – but it is rather sad for us humans. The few caracal on the estate have occasionally predated on young springbok and bushbuck, but that’s just part of ‘the circle of life’. And then there are ‘friendly fire’ losses such as when the old ram with a broken horn (he was called ‘Afhoring’) mistakenly stabbed a female in the side and caused injuries that necessitated her being put down. Apart from these incidents, the herd is remarkably healthy. The Kingswood herds have the support of a local vet, Dr Rob Swartz from Garden Route Animal Hospital, who is a wildlife specialist. If there are any injuries or illnesses, or if relocation is required, he’ll be asked to attend.
Mothers and babies
Golfers and walkers at Kingswood may be surprised to come across a tiny lamb, and often they think it is injured or even dead, only to be shocked when it leaps up and runs off! This is because mothers will hide their newly born lambs in the long grass or bush where the babies will keep completely still, except perhaps for a light flutter of their eyelids. The mothers will graze quite a way away with the rest of the herd, and then come back to feed their lambs. When they are a bit more stable on their dainty legs, the lambs will join the nursery herd. Dan talks warmly of how the youngsters lie together, snuggling up against each other, surrounded by sub-adults – with adults on the perimeter. When they’re hungry, they get up to feed from their mothers and then return to the nursery.
About three months ago, the northern herd moved through the tunnel to the south for some reason, and left one ram alone on the other side. Andries says that in the wild it is common for ewes to move through the territories of dominant springbok and, if they happen to be in season at the time, they will mate with the rams. This injects new genes into the larger herd. In the case of the Kingswood northern group, a theory is that the ewes didn’t want to breed with the northern ram any more. In the end, the lonely ram was rejoined by one ewe that had been involved in a scuffle that left her with a broken horn. This sounds like the beginning of a springbok romantic comedy, with the rejected ram and the wonky-horned ewe finding true love. The HOA considered moving some ewes back to the north to even things up, but they decided to let nature take its course. Hopefully some more ewes will return on their own, through the tunnel, as they did before.
Genetically, the herd is well balanced, but – unfortunately – it seems that more rams than ewes are being born, and the dominant ram on the south side is already chasing the youngsters. A bachelor herd may form and head off down to the seventh hole – or they may need to be moved off the estate, because this kind of gender imbalance is not sustainable. Moving them would, however, involve quite a bit of red-tape permits, and some labour-intensive darting, capture and relocation. Two of the dominant rams have a slipper-toe condition – their front hooves have grown too long. Initially it was thought that this was because the ground was too soft to wear their hooves down, and that they would need to be regularly darted for hoof treatment. But it turns out that this is a genetic condition, so they will be moved on to another game facility as soon as one of the younger rams becomes dominant.
’Boks and greens
Rather fortunately for the estate, springbok don’t sleep on the greens or even the fairway. They much prefer the rough for eating and resting, and will of course hide their young in taller vegetation. The only possible damage they could cause would be from exuberant pronking across the greens. This distinctive and joyful antic is a delight to watch. As they leap (up to two metres high) with stiff legs and an arched back, their rump flaps (a pocket-like structure) open to reveal white fluffy fur. Springbok can jump for sure, but fortunately they go for distance rather than for height, and are unlikely to escape over the boundary fences, which measure 2.4 metres high. Be reassured: when all aspects are considered, the estate springbok have a blessed life, appreciated by most.