Damaliscus pygargusblesbok(Also: bontebok)

Geographic Range

Damaliscus pygargus occurs in southern Africa. There are two physically distinct and well-recognized subspecies: bontebok (D. p. pygargus) are found in the highveld and coastal plains of South Africa, blesbok (D. p. phillipsi) are found in eastern and central South Africa. Bontebok populations are more or less confined to protected areas in South Africa. (Kingdom, 1997; Mills and Hes, 1997)


Bontebok and blesbok are found in South African grasslands. (Kingdom, 1997; Mills and Hes, 1997)

Physical Description

Bontesbok and blesbok share an adult color pattern where the relatively dark dorsal pelage contrasts sharply with high, white stockings and buttocks. Bontebok have a dark and glossy, purplish-brown dorsal pelage, while blesbok dorsal pelage is a dull, reddish-brown. Blesbok also have dark fur on their rumps, while bontebok have a white patch surrounding the tail. Calves are born with lighter brown pelage and dark faces and are identical to the young of topi (Damaliscus lunatus). Both sexes of both subspecies develop large and curving, gazelle-like horns Their short tail is tufted with black fur. Head and body length ranges from 140 to 160 cm, tail length from 30 to 45 cm. Males are typically larger than females, with female body mass ranging from 55 to 70 kg, and male body mass ranging from 65 to 80 kg. Bontebok average 8kg lighter than blesbok, which helps to distinguish the two. (Kingdom, 1997; Mills and Hes, 1997)

  • Range mass
    55 to 80 kg
    121.15 to 176.21 lb


Bontebok mate in February, while blesbok peak mating occurs in April. Gestation period for both is eight months. Young are born from August to mid-December. Usually a single young is birthed in a high grass area and within 2 hours after birth the young can be mobile. D. pygargus can live up to 17 years. (Kingdom, 1997; Mills and Hes, 1997)

  • Range number of offspring
    1 (low)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    8 (high) months
  • Average gestation period
    8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    707 days
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • extended period of juvenile learning


  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    23 (high) years


Bontebok and blesbok are diurnal grazers, spending most of the morning and afternoon grazing, resting during the midday and evening. They are gregarious animals, bontebok are seldom observed in groups larger than ten but blesbok can be found in groups of up to 25. Both were previously nomadic, migrating among seasonal pastures and forming large herds in fall and winter. Where they are housed in large enough areas they continue to display a semi-nomadic pattern of movement, traveling throughout available range in loose groups. Herds are loosely structured and membership is unstable but adult males do defend females and young in harem troops year round. Bontebok and blesbok have been observed grunting and snorting, which is used as an alarm response. Males defecate at dung-heaps within their territory to mark domain. 'Challenge Rituals' are ritualized interactions observed between neighboring males. Males also display dominance with a variety of postures and behaviors, including standing sideways to an intruder, digging up soil with their horns, foot stamping, and head swinging. Aggressive interactions between males involves horn clashing and can be fatal. Males and females both mark objects with secretions from a preorbital gland, these secretions are deposited on grass stalks as they are stroked with the horns.

(Kingdom 1997, Mills & Hes 1997)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Bontebok and blesbok are herbivores, they graze on grasses and herbage. Blesbok eat primarily red oat grass (Themeda), but also eat grasses in the genera Eragrostis and Chloromelas. Bontebok eat primarily grasses in the genera Bromus and Danthonia, however bontebok also feed on Eragrostis.

(Kingdon 1997)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Blesbok are important as a stock animal. Both blesbok and bontebok are important game animals and provide opportunities for tourism in South Africa.

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Conservation Status

After their extinction was threatened by excess hunting and the encroachment of agriculture the Bontebok National Park was established in 1931. At that time, only 17 bontebok existed in the wild. Now bontebok are extinct as wild animals and are currently raised on game farms. In recent years, the bontebok population has recovered to 2000+ members living on various reservations throughout South Africa. Blesbok were also seriously threatened by overhunting in the 19th century, reducing very large populations to approximately 2000 individuals. Populations have recovered, however, and now seem stable. Both bontebok (D. p. pygargus) and blesbok (D. p. phillipsi) are considered vulnerable by the IUCN and bontebok are on the CITES Appendix II list. (Kingdom, 1997; Mills and Hes, 1997)

Other Comments

The name 'bontebok' is derived from the Afrikaans word, bont--meaning brightly colored. This refers to the bontebok's rich glossy chestnut brown color. 'Blesbok' is derived from the Afrikaans word for white mark on the face, 'bles'.

Damaliscus pygargus was previously known as Damaliscus dorcas. D. pygargus pygargus is the bontebok, D. pygargus phillipsi is the blesbok. (Kingdom, 1997)


Rebecca Ann Csomos (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cynthia Sims Parr (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Binder Park Zoo, 1998. Docent Manual. Battle Creek, Michigan: Binder Park Zoo.

Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kingdom, J. 1997. The Kingdom Field Guide to African Mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.

Mills, G., L. Hes. 1997. The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Capetown: Struik Publishing Group.