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Antelopes

( Originally Published 1936 )

Antelopes are a branch of the order of Ungulates which vary greatly in size, some, like the Pigmy Antelope, being less than a foot in height, while others, such as the Eland, measure as much as six feet at the shoulder. The number of horns also varies, in some species four being present on the head of the males. These are always hollow and supported on a bony core, as in the cattle, are never branched, and are not shed like those of the deer. Most of the Ante-lopes are found in Africa, and there is but one species in America, the Prongbuck or Pronghorn, whereas Asia is represented by two, or three species. Many of them are unprovided with dewclaws—the short, small hoofs seen at the back of the foot in cattle and deer. While some are plains animals, living on dry, hard ground, certain others prefer swampy country, and in these latter the real hoofs are much elongated and the dewclaws are greatly developed, in order to support the animal on the soft ground.

There is great variety in the form of the horns, some being cimeter-like, as in the Roan Antelope, in others like a corkscrew, as in the Indian Antelope, while those of the Gemsbok and Oryx run in a perfectly straight line back of the head or fall in graceful curves on both sides of the shoulders.

In the early days of the colonisation of Africa, great herds composed of many different species wandered over the face of the continent, but since the opening up of the country to civilisation, and on ac-count of various diseases that have been fatal to them, their numbers have greatly decreased. As a rule, they are animals of great swiftness, and when wounded are dangerous; in charging, they lower the head between the front legs so that the horns project straight forward, and dash at the enemy with remark-able agility. Occasionally leopards have been found impaled on the horns of the Gemsbok, both animals having been killed.

Most forms of Antelope, particularly those living on the plains, are a light-grey or brown in colour, and in the reed-living species this is varied by stripes or spots upon the body. In captivity, they seem tougher and less sensible to pain than the deer family, and as a rule do well; but they are usually savage in character and are handled with much difficulty.

The most celebrated species in India is the Black Buck, or Indian Antelope (Antilope cervicapra). The males are a beautiful rich black above and pure white beneath, but the females are a uniform light fawn colour. The horns, which are present in the males only, are corkscrew-like in form, and extend for two feet or more straight backwards. This is the animal that is often hunted by means of trained cheetahs. In common with several other species, the Indian Antelope, when pursued, has a habit of bounding into the air, in order, it is thought, to gain a better idea of the character of the country it is to traverse. This animal is the only representative of its genus.

Gazelle (Gazella dorcas)

The Gazelle is one of the smaller antelopes, not exceeding two feet in height at the shoulder. It is fawn-coloured above, blackish on the lower part of the sides, the under surface of the body and a great part of the legs and rump are white, the face is marked with black and white, and the tail is black. The horns are of moderate length, but are larger and more strongly ridged in the male than in the female, and the eyes are large, full and beautiful in expression. The legs are long and extremely delicate in build. See Plate 26, Fig. 116. These animals are found in North Africa, usually in herds, their colour harmonising well with that of the deserts in which they live. When feeding, they post sentinels which give warning by a stamp of the foot at the approach of an enemy, when the whole herd at once takes to flight.

Four-horned Antelope (Tetraceros quadricornis)

This is a small Indian Antelope measuring about three feet in length, and remarkable for possessing four short horns, in the male only. The horns are not ridged, and the front pair is much shorter than the hinder pair, and is sometimes wanting. The upper surface of the body is reddish-brown, and the under surface is whitish, and there is a dark stripe down the front of each leg. See Plate 27, Fig. 121. The Four-Horned Antelope is found in hilly, bushy parts of India.

Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana)

The single representative of the Antelope family in America is the Pronghorn or Prongbuck, found in mountainous parts of the West and is not a true antelope, although it is more nearly allied to that family than to any other. The horns have a small prong, or branch, projecting forward from the main beam, from which the animal takes its name, and, singularly enough, this horn is shed every year like that of a deer, although it is supported on a bony core, as in the true antelopes.

The Pronghorn is a beautiful creature, about four and a half feet in length and two and a half feet high at the shoulder, the colour of the coat brownish above and white below, the hindquarters white, and there are two irregular patches of white on the throat. The eyes are large, deep brown in colour, and placed well at the sides of the head.

Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica)

This is the only desert Antelope which is found in Europe, and it is met with as far west as Poland, extending eastward across the steppes of Russia far into Central Asia. The face is much like that of a sheep, but the snout is very long, overhanging the lower jaw, and the nostrils are curiously inflated. It is ashy-grey above, whitish below and on the inner side of the legs, and a dark brown stripe runs along the middle of the back. Below the eyes and from the ears grow long tufts of hair.

Roan Antelope (Hippotragus equinus)

This is a large and handsome species inhabiting East Africa, and standing four or five feet high at the shoulder. It is brownish-grey above, white beneath, the face is varied with black and white, the ears are very long and pointed and have a tuft of hair at their tips, and there is a short black mane along the back. The tail is long and tufted with black. The horns are long, curving, and ridged, and the animal is dangerous when brought to bay. See Plate 27, Fig. 118.

Nearly allied to the Roan is the Sable Antelope (Hippotragus niger), also a very handsome animal, dark brown or black above, with a pure white stomach, the male bearing splendid cimeter-shaped horns as much as three feet in length, rising abruptly over the eyes and curving gracefully backwards. Like the Roan also, it is a fierce and determined fighter when wounded. These animals are still common in Southern Africa, and may be seen in quite large herds.

Eland (Oreas canna)

Prominent among South African Antelopes is the great Eland, largest of the species, full-grown males standing six feet high at the shoulder and measuring as much as nine feet in length. In colour it is a beautiful fawn or purplish-grey above, white beneath, and has very thin and delicate white stripes running across the body. The horns of the male are about two feet in length, those of the female some-what longer, and run in a general straight line, the base only being spirally twisted, in a corkscrew form. The adult male has a curious patch or ;tuft of hair between the eyes, of a light golden-yellow colour, and an enormous dewlap bordered with black hangs on the under side of the neck; the tail also is tufted with black. The body is quite ox-like in form, but the head is very small and delicate in proportion to the size of the animal. See Plate 28, Fig. 122. The flesh is very palatable, and the creature is often pursued by the natives of South Africa for food.

Next in size to the Eland is the Kudu (Strepsiceros kudu), probably the most beautiful of all the ante-lopes. It is similar in colour, but has rather brilliant white stripes across the body, and a white line ex-tends in front of the eyes and down on either side of the nose. The ears are enormously large, and the male has magnificent spiral horns as much as three feet in length.

Chamois (Rupicapra tragus),

In form and habits the Chamois resembles a goat rather than the more typical antelopes. It inhabits the high mountains of Central and Southern Europe and Southwestern Asia, leaping from crag to crag and up and down the mountain-sides with the greatest agility. It is a dull reddish-brown in summer, darker in winter, with a black stripe on the back. The throat is dull yellow, the head and rump are varied with white, and the tail is reddish-brown. The Chamois is a small animal, about three feet in length and two feet or more high, and has small black horns that are hooked backwards and sharply pointed. See Plate 27, Fig. 119. The herds post sentinels who warn them of approach of an enemy by whistling and stamping, and chamois-hunting is very dangerous sport owing to the rough character of the country the animal frequents.

White-tailed Gnu (Connochcetes gnu)

Probably the most singular in appearance of all the antelopes is the Gnu, several species of which are common in South America. For years this creature was a puzzle to naturalists, who were unable to fix its exact place in the zoological world. The Dutch colonists called it the " horned horse," which name they no doubt derived from the long and bushy tail somewhat resembling that of a horse. The head, however, is unlike that of any other animal, and the horns, which are present in both sexes, form a broad and heavy base that reaches across the forehead, tip suddenly forward over the eyes, and then sharply re-curve upwards.

The White-tailed Gnu is dark brown in colour, with the exception of the long tail, which is pure white; there is a short mane, a tuft of hair under the chin and a brush of black hair under the neck. See Plate 27, Fig. 117. The females are somewhat lighter in colour.

The Brindled Gnu, or Blue Gnu (Connochcetes taurina), so named on account of the greyish-blue colour, is slightly larger than the preceding species and distinguished from it by the dark brown stripes and dark brown or black tail.

When running in herds these creatures perform curious antics, gathering around any object that may have attracted their attention, leaping and jumping about, whisking their long tails, and grunting in an extraordinary manner. In captivity they are irritable, and sometimes charge at spectators, dashing their horns against the bars of their paddocks.

There are several ugly species of antelope in South Africa called the Hartebest (Bubalis cama), distinguished by their extremely long, solemn-looking faces and their curiously shaped horns. They are yellowish-brown in colour, the face and legs marked with black, and the tail black and bushy. Like the Gnus, they are noted for their extraordinary antics.



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