The Disappearance of The Springbok ‘Mega’ Herds

Nowadays when people on game drives see springbok in national parks and game reserves they are often impressed by the sheer numbers in the herds. These “big” herds though are merely the left overs of what once covered the lands of South Africa and Namibia. It was these “mega” herds of springbok encountered by the early settlers that resulted in them becoming South Africa’s national animal and the name of our national rugby team, the Sprinboks.

The excerpt below was taken from the book Big Game compiled by Dr. Ian Player in 1972.

“One unforgettable day in 1849 the people of the little Karoo village of Beaufort West heard a roar in the red dawn as if a strong wind was blowing before a thunderstorm. Then, according to J.G Fraser, who recorded the event, they could hardly believe their ears when the sound of the wind changed into the trampling of tens of thousands of hooves on the hard red earth. But they saw right before their eyes in the dusty streets the flow of a horned flood of all kinds of game – wildebeest, blesbok, quagga, eland and springbok, mostly springbok – tens of thousands of springbok.


A few hours shooting during the last great trek of the springbok in 1896 brought this bag to four hunters in the Karoo.

“As far as the eye could see they covered the country,” wrote Fraser, “grazing off everything eatable before them, drinking up the water in the street furrows, fountains and dams, wherever they could get at it. It took about three days before the whole of the trekbokken had passed, and it left the country looking as if a fire had passed over it.”

Gordon Cumming one of the most reckless hunters who ever fired a shot in the veld gives an equally vivid description of the trekbokke he saw on the move between Cradock and Colesberg in his book, The Lion Hunter of South Africa, published in 1858. He tells how from his wagon he watched vast legions of springbok pass “like the flood of some great river”. He saddled his horse, rode into the midst of them and shot until he cried out: “Enough!”


Sketch by John Millais in 1895 from stories told by the old farmers of what the veld had been like in the old days.

Hopefully due to the efforts of conservationists like Dr. Ian Player (whose birthday it was yesterday), our grandchildren will have more than just stories and photographs of rhinos and all the other animals which are threatened with extinction by our unprecedented consumption of the earth’s natural resources.


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