How accurate was Dandelot's classical field-guide to damalisks?

@matthewinabinett @simontonge @ludwig_muller @tonyrebelo @jakob @michalsloviak @tandala @jeremygilmore

Please see top-left in, for the genus Damaliscus.

These are the depictions, painted in watercolour by Pierre Dandelot, in Dorst and Dandelot (1972, second edition, and and,-JEAN,-DANDELOT,-PIERRE and and and

After scrutinising thousands of photos of each of the species of Damaliscus on the Web, and Posting extensively in the last few weeks on this topic, I can point out the following.

DAMALISCUS HUNTERI Not applicable here because transferred to genus Beatragus.



  • missed the fact that the upper foreleg is consistently the darkest of the 'dark' features on the legs, haunches, and shoulders (this criticism applies also to D. lunatus and D. 'dorcas' phillipsi),
  • misportrayed the pattern of colouration in the area between eyes, forehead, and base of horns (including inconsistency between the profile and full-frontal views),
  • did not sufficiently portray the uniformity and relative darkness of the ventral part of the torso, and
  • depicted the hindquarters as too small relative to the head.


(See comments above and below.)

DAMALISCUS DORCAS DORCAS (now Damaliscus pygargus pygargus)


  • exaggerated the size of the horns, which in reality are smaller than in phillipsi, and
  • showed the connection between the whitish on the rostrum and that on the forehead as too spindly.

DAMALISCUS DORCAS PHILLIPSI (now Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi)


  • missed the fact that the posterior surface of the ear usually looks paler in phillipsi than in 'dorcas',
  • overlooked that the distal part of the tail-tassel tends to be pale,
  • exaggerated the whitish feature on the ventral torso,
  • exaggerated the interruption of the whitish on the face, between rostrum and forehead, which is misleadingly described by Dorst in the accompanying verbal key as a 'dark band',
  • failed to show the relative paleness of the horns, and
  • misportrayed the white on the posterior surface of the upper foreleg as extending to the elbow (, which is true for 'dorcas' but not for phillipsi.

By using different postures for D. korrigum and D. lunatus, Dandelot implied an obvious difference in body-conformation between the two forms, which is actually as misleading as it is helpful. In fact, the two forms are similar in body conformation except for the shape of the horns.

The converse applies to D. 'dorcas'. By choosing identical postures, Dandelot implied that the nominate form and phillipsi are more similar to each other than lunatus is to korrigum.

In reality, the converse is the case: the two forms of 'dorcas' differ in that the head is proportionately larger, and the hindquarters proportionately smaller, in phillipsi than in 'dorcas' (

In the verbal key accompanying the illustrations, both korrigum and lunatus are described as 'purplish red'.

This 'right-brained' impression

  • is not literally correct, but
  • is food for thought about the roles of sheen and even ultraviolet, particularly at the subconscious level in the human observer.

However, more prosaically, what I find unsatisfactory is that Dandelot's illustrations are incongruent with Dorst's words: the painter's colours do not show red, let alone purple.


Dorst and Dandelot (1972) is a classic, because it pioneered a genre, and the illustrations are generally excellent.

However, in a way this book helped to mislead naturalists, by setting certain search-images for damalisks which are arguably more false than true.

More particularly, by portraying blesbok and bontebok as implicitly so similar as to be obviously conspecific, they helped to blind observers to the real differences, which are in fact great enough to warrant different species.

By the same token, by implicitly exaggerating the differences between the tsessebe and related forms, Dandelot inadvertently blinded us to the fact that the tsessebe is at least as similar to the 'korrigum' as the blesbok is to the bontebok.

Indeed, a point that remains underappreciated to this day is as follows:

Considering the vast distance between Senegal (in far-West Africa, and South Africa, the similarity between korrigum and tsessebe is remarkable. The only ungulate that spans this range with more uniformity is Hippotragus equinus (please see illustrations in first comment below). Even in the particularly widespread species Sylvicapra grimmia, the subspecies are quite different in Senegal ( vs South Africa (

For their part, the blesbok and the bontebok should be subject to a 'default assumption' of different species, considering that they were disjunct in distribution and different ecologically.

Another way of stating this, in part:

In the case of tsessebe and korrigum, the human observer has been misled by the horns, which tend to catch the eye disproportionately to their real biological/taxonomic significance. In the case of blesbok and bontebok, the human observer has been misled by the whitish facial bleeze, which is so bold, and so odd among ungulates, that it masks real differences.

Perhaps the best example is the horns of the bontebok. Dandelot depicts these as identical to those of the blesbok, in both his profile views and the full-frontal comparison. In fact, the horns differ as much as in the case of tsessebe and korrigum, albeit in size rather than in shape. Yet, has any Reader ever seen mention, in field guide-books, of the small size of the horns of the bontebok?

Also please see and

For an index to my many Posts about the genus Damaliscus, please see

Posted on 18 April, 2023 00:05 by milewski milewski


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