Bontebok Fact File

Damaliscus pygargus pygargus

Credit: Public Domain








Wild 17 years

Captive 17 years




Conservation Status



The bontebok is a subspecies of the blesbok. These two species have interbred regularly and few purebred individuals remain.

Their numbers were reduced as low as 22 in the 1930s. These animals are poor jumpers and were contained by fences which protected them from hunters.

They are grazers and will spend their days feeding on grasses and recently burnt veld.

Unlike many other antelope which leave their young in a secluded area for a period of time blesbok calves are up and walking within 5 minutes of birth and will immediately accompany their mother.

Read on to learn more about these marvellous mammals.


What does the bontebok look like?

Across their back the bontebok has rich brown fur. On the muzzle is a blaze of white fur. This blaze narrows at the eyes and continues up to the top of the head finishing between the eyes. Their underside is white. On each of the feet is a white patch which resembles a sock.

At the end of their body is a tail which adds between 10 and 60cm (4-23.5in) to their length. The tail ends with a black tip of long hairs.

Atop the head are a pair of horns. These are lyre shaped and reach lengths of up to 70cm (28in) long. Along the length of the horns they have rings around them. Females tend to have more slender horns than males.

An average bontebok will measure 1.2-2.1m (4-7ft) long with a weight of between 68 and 155kg (150-340lbs). They stand approximately 1m (3ft) tall.


What does the bontebok eat?

These animals are herbivores. They will feed on grasses and recently burnt veld. This species is primarily a grazer.

Water is essential to their survival and it is rare for them to be far from this.

Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus)

Credit: Public Domain


Where can you find the bontebok?

Africa is the native home of the bontebok. Here they are restricted to South Africa.

Naturally they only occur in Western cape but they have been introduced to most provinces within the country.

Reports exist of the species from other areas but it is likely these arise from confusion with the blesbok which has similar appearance.


What kind of environment does the bontebok live in?

Bontebok are found in shrubland and grassland habitats.

Males will mark out a territory which they defend. This is marked using their droppings, scrapes in the ground and oils emitted by their pre-orbital gland.

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How does the bontebok produce its young?

Mating takes place from January to March.

A single infant is born after a 7 to 8 month gestation period. At birth the young are tan in color and develop their adult color as they grow.

Young can walk within 5 minutes of being born. They follow their mother and drink milk until weaning at 6 months old.

Maturity is reached at two years old.


What does the bontebok do with its day?

These animals live in herds. Three herd types are recognized. These are bachelor herds of males, nursery herds made up of females and their young and territorial males which are single males which maintain an area and breeding rights with the females within.

Nursery herds average two to eight individuals.

Grazing takes place during the morning and late afternoon. This allows them to rest during the middle of the day when it is warmest.

Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the bontebok?

Natural predators of the bontebok include lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, caracals and jackals.

They can make use of their horns to attack predators when threatened. Most often they will flee from the threat before attacking.

The current population of the bontebok is considered stable.

This species was driven to near extinction in the 1930s. At this point only 22 individuals were known. This population was offered protection within a newly established national park.

At present their population is estimated to include near to 1,000 individuals.

Threats faced by the species include hybridization with the blesbok along with a low genetic diversity within the population.

Other threats include habitat loss, overhunting and disease. Hunting takes place for their horns and skins along with for trophies.

Quick facts

The bontebok is a subspecies of the blesbok. They separated due to the development of a dry area known as the karoo which isolated the bontebok and allowed it to develop as a new species.

Interbreeding within the two species occurs regularly and may mean no pure strains of either species remain.

Their name translates from Afrikaans as "patchwork buck." 

Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus)

Credit: Public Domain


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Radloff, F., Birss, C., Cowell, C., Peinke, D., Dalton, D. & Kotze, A. 2017. Damaliscus pygargus ssp. pygargusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T6236A50185717. Accessed on 24 December 2021.

Oregon Zoo. 2021. Bontebok. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 December 2021]. 2021. Bontebok - Antelope - Africa Wildlife Guide. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

Safari West. 2021. Bontebok - Safari West. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 December 2021]. 2021. Bontebok | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 December 2021]. 2021. The bontebok - a species saved from the brink of extinction – Capenature. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

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