Tag Archives: lions

The Gemsbok – courageous, elegant and proud

Namibian’s think so highly of the gemsbok, or Oryx gazella that their national coat of arms depicts two of these magnificent animals on either side of a shield covered with the national flag – representing courage, elegance and pride.  If you see these antelope in their desert surroundings, you will understand why they hold such a prominent place in the hearts of all Namibians.

Gemsbok in typical habitat

We come across them often in our travels in Namibia and Botswana and they never fail to give us a thrill when we see them.  Their coats vary in colour from light grey to light brown, with patches of white, highlighted by dramatic black lines on their backs, legs and faces. These striking markings are offset by long straight horns that are sported by both males and females – the female’s horns being slightly thinner and longer.

Pair of gemsbok

Gemsbok can survive in harsh semi-desert conditions and dry savannah areas as they have adapted to tolerate heat better than other antelopes.  Able to withstand temperatures in excess of 45 degrees C they use rapid breathing to cool the blood that passes through their noses.  This cooler blood is transported to their brains and their body temperature is brought down a few degrees.

Enjoying a dip with Springbok

They are able to survive for long periods without water. Like most antelopes, they are mainly grazers, but they also eat tsamma melons, bulbs and tubers, which add moisture and fibre to their diet.  During the day gemsbok mostly try and find a shady tree to stand under, as they prefer feeding early in the morning, evening and sometimes during the night, when temperatures are cooler.

Gemsbok at Etosha

Lions,  hyenas and dogs are their main predators, apart from humans, who hunt them for trophies or meat.  We came across a lion kill in the Central Kalahari last year, where a pride of lions had brought down a gemsbok.

Lion kill in the Kalahari

The lions guarded their kill very jealously because a large number of black-backed jackals  were keen to get any pickings that they could.

Lion kill in the Kalahari

Gemsbok give birth to a single calf, arriving at any time during the year, after a nine month gestation period.  The calf is usually hidden for the first few weeks of its life before it joins the rest of the herd.  The baby’s horns grow very quickly, giving rise to the myth that gemsbok are born with horns, which obviously isn’t true.  As can be seen from the photo below, the baby is brown with very few markings.

Mother & Baby - Sossusvlei

Wherever we see them – in the sand dunes of Sossusvlei, the savannah grasslands of Botswana or the arid rocky Etosha game reserve, they remain one of our absolute favourite animals and we always admire their grace and beauty.

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 2

When we drove into the Rooiputs camping area the first thing we saw was a small tent tucked away in a thicket of trees and bushes.  It belonged to the engineer working on the new road – a site he had occupied for more than a year.  Apparently he chose this unconventional habitat in preference to proper digs at Twee Rivieren/Two Rivers and because of this he was very knowledgeable about the comings and goings of the lions in the Rooiputs area.  He told us that Rooiputs was the best place in the Park to see lions and warned us that they came through the campsite at least three times a week.   He spoke of a pride of thirteen lions in the vicinity.

We didn’t have to wait long before the deep roar of a lion really close by broke the silence of the night. The next morning Jon was up at first light and noticed lion paw prints in the road within a meter or so from where we were both camped.

Lion tracks in the campsite

We wondered at what stage of the night it had passed by – was it while we were asleep or when we were enjoying a braai outside the A-frame?  Had we been sized up for dinner and found wanting? (Note:  We always had a car parked near where we were sitting for quick refuge in case of a visit by lions)

Lion bait  Jane & Rob Lion bait  Hillary & Jon

Morning ablutions forgotten we dived into Jon’s car and headed down the short track to the Rooiputs waterhole.  Lions can be quite difficult to spot as they blend into the bushveld scenery and at first we didn’t see anything.  Luckily campers from a nearby site pointed out the lone lioness on a dune quite near the waterhole.

Lone lioness

Our delight at seeing her magnified when we heard a loud roar and she jumped up and made her way to greet a magnificent male lion accompanied by three other lionesses.  She was obviously expecting them and they had a joyful reunion.

Happy reunion

Group reunion

We couldn’t believe our luck when one of the females later left the group and made her way a short distance along the road in front of us to greet yet another male lion.

Old male - Mfaas

Now there were six of them.  We later learned that the Park rangers kept tabs on these males and they were named Moertoe and Mfaas – Moertoe being the younger male who now headed the pride.  Old Mfaas, although respected, kept his distance from the pride when they were cooling off in the heat of the day.

Young male - Moertoe

The lions spent the rest of the day lying under trees, moving only to follow the shade as the sun rose in the sky.  The jackals gave them a wide berth as they came cautiously down to drink.  One lone springbok made off at great speed when one of the lionesses stood up and did a small charge, but she obviously wasn’t too keen on hunting as she quickly flopped down to the ground again.

Young male - Moertoe

What a magnificent lion sighting.  Any other animal activity on offer that day would pale into insignificance after such a display.

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1 | Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 2 |
Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3 | Trips