[As you can see, I’m alternating between Maine, where I am now, and past encounters from farther afield, where there are animals I have not yet shown you. In November things are quiet here, and I’m collecting and building some stories to tell you, but you don’t want a weekly diet of mushrooms.]
From Kenya’s Lewa Wilderness Lodge to Il Ngwesi Lodge is a slow three-hour drive in a Landcruiser on forbiddingly rocky tracks. The upside is a chance to glimpse new animals, like this Klipspringer, one of a pair high on the hillside:
now very worried by our presence:
All its various names speak of its niche in the world. Its scientific name is Oreotragus oreotragus, Greek for “mountain billygoat” (twice!). Its Kiswahili name mbuzi mawe means “goat of the rocks”, like the chamois, and its Afrikaans name means “cliff leaper”, because that is exactly what it does. It walks on the tips of cylindrical blunt two-toed hooves
for all the world like a ballet dancer en pointe.
Each hoof tip is the size of a dime, and exerts a slight suction effect. Rather surprisingly this gives the klipspringer a good grip on its preferred rocky hillsides.
Klipspringers, like their closest relatives the dikdik, are altogether tiny delicate creatures, standing no more than two feet at the shoulder. They form a close pair-bond, staying together till one dies. They are found over large areas of Eastern and Southern Africa, and they are not endangered, partly because their preferred remote mountain habitat is not coveted for livestock, and not accessible for hunting. They are browsers, and get enough water from their food.
Their coat is unusual for antelope, being thick and coarse with brittle hollow guard hairs, which they are able to erect:
They have a white nose and lips, chestnut forehead, and lovely black and white ears. Only the males have horns, 3-6 inches long:*
Not one of the most dramatic animals in Africa, nor the most imposing, but one of the most peaceful and elegant; I’d rather like to see one at breakfast each morning, tiptoeing peacefully around, perhaps to strains of Tchaikovsky wafting out of my window.
* PS Confusingly, other sources say that in East Africa, where I was, both sexes have horns. Maybe I should choose the pronoun “they” ?