On my first few African game drives in 2007, I confess to being underwhelmed by the antelopes. Perhaps it was because tree-climbing lions, dust-bathing elephants and journeys of giraffes stole the show. But over 3 years and 6 countries later I have probably taken close to 50 game drives and the endearing antelopes have taken hold in my heart. First it was the Greater Kudu of Tanzania, with its huge cupped ears, bearded throat and turned horns. It was love at first sight, until I met the Nyala in South Africa, sporting its white “mohawk” dorsal crest and bushy tail. I couldn’t look away. I was mesmerized by the ritualized posturing of the males, walking in slow circles around each other until one bowed his head and retreated. But the Great Migration introduced me to the Wildebeest. Who could not love this creature, looking like it just won the “Junkyard Wars: Antelope Edition.” A hodge-podge of extra pieces put together in a magnificent design. Sadly, with thousands as far as the eye could see, I would never be able to choose just one… Zimbabwe turned my Ungulate crush to the Sable antelope–truly majestic and easily the “looker” in the world of hoofed mammals. Gorgeous, black glossy coat on the males, chestnut on the females, with white markings down both sides of the face setting off those glorious horns that rise up vertically, and sweep back in a curve, sometimes 60 inches long. I thought it would be forever…but then the Oryx (Gemsbok) stared its way into my life on the red sands of the Namib Rand dessert of Namibia. Its oblong tan, black and white face painted like a warrior, black stripe down its back and from chin to chest, and those long, slightly curved horns made it hard to look away. (I confess to two-timing him with the equally handsome Beisa Oryx of north Kenya…) Sure, I had brief affairs with the smaller, cute ones. Exchanging torch-lit glances at dusk with Red Duikers that roamed our camp area, stalking coy Klipspringers up on the rocks behind the tents, and of course those shifty little Dik Diks–almost impossible to photograph! I grew enamored with Gazelles and the ubiquitous Impala. Our relationship was labored however, as loving them was so often in conflict with my excitement of seeing a mother cheetah feed a family of five, courtesy of this Serengeti “fast food.” I grew to realize I could never resolve this particular love-affair.
So, word was out–I was becoming a bit of an antelope floozy. From the large, shaggy, grizzled, gray-haired Waterbuck with his perfect heart-shaped nose to the small and secretive, bushy-tailed Bushbuck. So many “bucks,” so little time! But on the Mara I gave up my wandering eye for the magnificent Topi. This was true love. Those amber eyes, tall shoulders, long, lean legs and deeply ridged horns. Who wouldn’t love that chestnut coat with those incredible “indigo denim” patches on the forehead and upper legs. I was smitten. I thought I could live happily-ever-after…It wasn’t to be. Alas, the rebel in me was drawn to an outcast. The strangest even-toed ungulate of all. A total browser, blessed with a beautifully long neck. I sat mesmerized watching him gracefully stand on his back legs, stretching up over 6 feet into the tree to pluck the freshest leaves from the top. The Gerenuk. Where had he been all my life?
I soon realized as I looked back that I was doomed from the start. I could never give my heart to just one and when it came to the antelopes of Africa, I would just have to come to terms with my photo-philandering ways.
(This was originally posted in July but I was feeling romanitc today…a slide show of these guys can be seen in this old post: