Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park II


In this article, Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park II, I will discuss the grazers.
In Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park I I discussed the browsers of this park and in Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park III Megaherbivores, I discussed the real big ones, the megaherbivores.

Understanding herbivores 

Herbivores are animals that get their energy from eating plants and nothing else. There are two groups, viz. grazers and browsers.

Browsing antelopes feed on leaves, young shoots, thorns ,flowers from trees and bushes, and some utilize bulbs as well. Grazers, on the other hand, feed predominantly on grass material.

The difference in feeding habits determines where you are most likely to find these animals. Browsers can be found wherever shrubs or trees are present. Grazers, on the other hand, will stick to grasslands, or woodland where enough grass is available.
Some browsers graze occasionally and some grazers browse occasionally.

For more information on the different habitats in this game reserve, please consult another article of mine, viz. Pilanesberg National Park.

Obviously, one can hardly discuss herbivores without thinking about their predators at the same time. As a matter of fact, all the animals discussed below have natural enemies which are mentioned as well. For a discussion of the predators, the carnivores, please consult my article on the Carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park.

Do you want to skip everything and check out the lodges and booking in that park right now?

Grazers of the Pilanesberg National Park 

Grazers found in the Pilanesberg National Park include plains zebra (Burchell's zebra), blue wildebeest, gemsbok, sable antelope, common waterbuck, tsessebe, red hartebeest, common reedbuck and mountain reedbuck. These will now be discussed.

Common zebra (Burchell's zebra) 

The zebra found at the Pilanesberg National Park is the most common found in southern Africa and along with blue wildebeest, probably the most common sight of the southern African grassland as found in national parks.
I will conclude with a few interesting facts about this mammal.

Common zebra (Burchell's zebra): Interesting facts 

  1. Like all zebras, it is boldly striped in black and white and no two individuals look exactly alike. The northern populations have narrower and more defined striping; southern populations have varied but lesser amounts of striping on the underparts, the legs and the hindquarters. Southern populations also have brown "shadow" stripes between the black and white colouring.
  2. A zebra's digestive system works quickly and can extract more protein from the fibrous and poorest plant parts. So, although they prefer young, fresh growth (grass), they can survive on long top grasses, which are low in protein. For this very reason other grazers like blue wildebeest and springbok are often seen grazing with zebra, since their grazing expose the more nutritional short grass on which these species graze.

    Plains zebras can not survive very long without water and have to be close enough to water for regular drinks.
  3. Plains zebras are highly social and usually form small family groups consisting of a single stallion, several mares and their recent offspring. Bachelor males either live alone or with groups of other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge a breeding stallion.

    A stallion forms a harem by abducting young mares from their families. A stallion will defend his group from bachelor males (as well as predators), unless the male grew up with the stallion. Fighting among stallions often become very violent, with the animals biting at each other's necks, heads or legs, wrestling to the ground, and occasional kicking. Many predators have been seriously injured from a kick by a zebra.
  4. The plains zebra's main predators are lions and spotted hyaenas. Nile crocodiles are also great threats during river crossings. For protection from land predators the plains zebra retreat into open areas with good visibility at night time.
  5. An excellent photo gallery on Burchell's zebra can be found this spot.

Blue wildebeest 

As said above, you can hardly imagine an African savannah scene without this big (1.5m at shoulders) antelope, the blue wildebeest, usually sharing the plains with zebra. They prefer savanna, grassland, open forest and scrub forest.

Blue wildebeest: Interesting facts 

  1. Two interesting observations about the appearance of a blue wildebeest: They have dark brown vertical bands of slightly longer hair at the neck and forequarters, which from a distance lend a perception of skin wrinkling. It also has a long tail like horse.
  2. Wildebeest benefit from co-existing with zebra, since zebra mow down long grass, leaving the wildebeests to eat the newly exposed and more nutritional short grasses. Their blunt muzzles with wide incisor row are best equipped for grazing short green grasses, too short for other antelopes to utilize.
  3. Since all wildebeests require a long drink every day or two, they must have water within about 15 to 25 kilometers distance.
  4. Blue wildebeest are unusually territorial, adult males occupying their territories for a month or for the entire year. The bucks mark territory boundaries with dung heaps, preorbital gland secretions, hoof scent glands and pawing of the earth.

    When competing over territory, males grunt quite loudly, make a thrusting motion with their horns and perform other displays of aggression. In the actual clashes between males, they face off resting on bent front knees, exchanging horn thrusts for brief periods. Elaborate individual displays are made in the rivalry and courtship process, where males bellow, snort and protrude their horns into the soil.
    To attract the opposite sex at the beginning of courtship the male will rub its preorbital gland on a tree and then proceed with a destructive horning of that tree. Once territory is established, the male attempts to lure or corral the female into his domain. A female may copulate with several different males, visiting several different territories.

    Herds may be mixed gender with a dominant male, or females only or bachelors only.
  5. Blue wildebeests are a favorite prey item prey to lions, and spotted hyaenas and Nile crocodiles. The latter stalks them at river crossings.


The gemsbok is a big antelope, measuring 1.25m at its shoulder; a truly magnificent animal, as is clear from the photo attached.

Gemsbok: Photos from Flickr 

Oryx (Gemsbok) in dominance fight by WildImages 05550-04316 Gemsbok impaled by the broken horn of an adversary in a dominance fight (Oryx gazella) by WildImages Gemsbok & Wildebeest fight by Kalahari Gemsbok Gemsbok at Sossusvlei by geoftheref Gemsbok also known as Oryx in Etosha by jonclark2000

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Some interesting facts about the gemsbok 

  1. Their impressive, straight, long horns are sharp at the tips and demand respect for obvious reasons. They have been known to gore attacking lions with their horns and rare fights among bulls could have dire consequences, as the photos above clearly shows.

    In the second one the victorious male ends up with a broken horn and part of the loser's horn in his side!
    Gemsbok have excellent eyesight, hearing and smell. They are swift runners and they don't shy away from big animals of prey. If they do have to defend themselves, they don't hesitate.
    The sharp pointed horns are lowered parallel to the ground and the animals lunge with great accuracy when holding off lions and other predators. Herds bunch around calves if hyaenas are detected.
    Check out the National Geographic video below as well.

    The horns of the calves grow extremely fast and when they emerge from concealment after birth their horns are very evident. This has lead to the myth that a gemsbok is born with horns. Both sexes have horns.
  2. The gemsbok prefers the arid and semi-arid open grassland, scrub and light open woodland. It is very adapt for desert and semi-desert life with the ability to go for extended periods without water. Gemsbok graze, but also eat roots, bulbs and melons for moisture. Sometimes they even eat soil for minerals.
  3. Gemsbok form mixed herds typically consisting of 10-30 animals, which may become considerably bigger during rainy seasons. Both sexes are ranked on the basis of age and dominant characteristics and led by a territorial male. The absolute dominance hierarchy reduces the need to fight.
    Only territorial males breed. Herd composition in the wild constantly changes with some that want to drink, for example, form a group to go to water while females with young form a group that moves more slowly.

Sable antelope 

The sable antelope, another large antelope measuring 1.3m at its shoulders, is regarded by many as the most beautiful antelope of Africa. Whether you agree with this or not, it is indeed another magnificent animal. It has striking sable-like curved horns of 1 meter in adult males. The record is an astonishing 154cm.

These horns are not only for show; they are used for defence. When attacked (or when they fight for territory), the male's defence strategy is to go down onto its knees, sweeping with its horns. Even lions show a great deal of respect for these antelopes and there have been numerous instances of the big cats having been gored to death by sable bulls.
Both sexes have horns.

Sable live in small herds consisting of numerous adult females, which have a strict hierarchy according to seniority, and their offspring. Each herd is accompanied by a dominant bull. Non-breeding bulls occur singly or in small bachelor herds.

Sable antelopes are primarily grazers of dominant grass species, either of medium height or in new growth. During the dry season they are typically found in valley bottoms and river beds, where they are able to find drinking water on a daily basis.

Sable antelope by Flickr 

Sable herd by Wildcaster The king of Antelopes / Der Antelopen Konig. by Bhubezi-Jake Sable and wild dogs by Wildcaster Sable fighting by Image-Oasis Sable by Anton Matthee

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Common waterbuck 

The common waterbuck is a big (1.3m at shoulders), robust animal, characterised by the white ring on its rump. Only males have horns, which could be as long as 100cm. Although not a genuine aquatic animal, it uses water as a refuge, sometimes submerging with only its nostrils protruding. Oily hair (which has a strong turpentine smell) aids waterproofing.

It inhabits areas close to permanent water and this secures food all year round, since it utilizes types of coarse grass seldom eaten by other grazing animals.

Males do compete for and hold territories, but they are quiet, sedentary animals.

Main predators are lions, hyaenas and leopard, but crocodile, wild dogs and cheetah also take waterbuck.

Red hartebeest and tsessebe 

Both these are large antelopes (1.3m at shoulders) and both prefer grassy areas surrounded by woodlands. Tsessebe, however, have to drink water on a regular basis, whereas red hartebeest can live without water. Both these antelope are very fast and can outrun their predators; the tsessebe is actually regarded as the fastest antelope of southern Africa.

Red hartebeest and tsessebe 

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Common and mountain reedbuck 

These two grazing species are medium sized antelope, the common reedbuck being 90cm at its shoulders and the mountain reedbuck 72cm.
Common reedbuck are rare and shy and prefer tall grass near water. They have a sharp alarm whistle and flee with their tails fanned over their backs, taking refuge to water in extreme cases.

Mountain reedbuck occur in groups of 3 to 6. At day they will be found on rocky slopes, at night on grassy areas near water.

Common reedbuck by Flickr 

Southern Reedbuck, (Redunca arundinum) (Endangered) by Arno & Louise Reedbuck (endangered) by Arno & Louise

Accommodation at the Pilanesberg National Park 

A tourist has a variety of six lodges to choose from, viz. Ivory Tree Game Lodge and Tsukudu Bush Lodge (both 5 stars), Kwa Maritane and Bakubung (both 4 stars), and Manyane and Bakgatla (both 3 stars). The SA Tourism star grading says it all.

Another option is to book in at one of the hotels at Sun City, enjoy everything on offer there and do day trips into the game reserve.

For more information on
the hotels, lodges and booking, click here.

Useful links on Pilanesberg National Park 

The Pilanesberg Guide is an excellent book to have. If you do go there, you have to get it beforehand. It is available at Amazon (see below) or at Kalahari.net right here.

Another useful link is Wikipedia on the different species.

Photo gallery

This link is a gallery of 79 excellent photos of the wildlife in Pilanesberg.

Pilanesberg National Park Official website

The official website of the Pilanesberg National Park of the North West Park and Tourism Board.


The official site of the African Wildlife Foundation.


In Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park I I dealt with the grazers in Pilanesberg. In this the second article on the herbivores in this park, I've focussed on the grazers of this park. I sincerely hope this will contribute towards you going there and see for yourself! In case you do consider it, check out the accommodation available at Sun City as well as in the game reserve.

Don't forget to take your binoculars along! If you don't have a pair, consider buying one before you go. You could consult my article on safari binoculars.

Books on mammals of Southern Africa available at Amazon 

Pocket-Guide to Southern African Mammals

by Burger Cillie

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)

Pilanesberg: Official Map and Park Guide

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)

The Mammals of the South African Sub-region

by R.H.N. Smithers, J. Skinner

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)


Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)


Come August each year, everybody in South Africa and many people around the world know that one of the biggest spectacles in Nature is about to happen: The transformation of an arid, desert-like area of about 200,000 sq. kilometres, known as Namaqualand, into an awe-inspiring, dazzling, spectacular mass-display of wild flowers arguably unequalled on the planet.

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Thinking about nature reserves in South Africa, the Kruger National Park immediately springs to the mind, but people tend to forget - or simply do not know - that South Africa boasts a number of other world-class reserves, among which the Pilanesberg National Park/Game Reserve, the fourth biggest in South Africa. In this article I would like to show why it would be worth your while to visit this superb national park in Pilanesberg.

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