The steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) in the Highveld: a simple question gone impossibly complex?

It strikes me that the relationship between Raphicerus campestris ( and the Highveld ( is particularly complicated and obscure.

On the face of it, one might have expected this relationship to be simple.

After all, R. campestris is typical of open, grassy vegetation, and the Highveld is a fairly discrete region within which it would be reasonable to expect just one, easily recognisable, subspecies of R. campestris.

But, in reality, there are at least four factors that cloud everything.

Firstly, the 'sour' type of Highveld, consisting of unpalatable, fire-prone grasses on poor soils under relatively copious rainfall, lacks R. campestris completely.

Secondly, even within the 'sweet' type of Highveld, consisting of palatable, fire-free grasses on rich soils under relatively sparse rainfall, R. campestris seems oddly uncommon, and overlooked/ignored in the records of the first European explorers of the 1800's.

Thirdly, the history of scientific collection of R. campestris happens to have been such that, as if by accident, the maximum uncertainty has arisen in the relationship of candidate sspp. fulvorubescens, 'natalensis', zuluensis, and capricornis to the Highveld.

Fourthly, the political (country/province) boundaries in the Highveld are complex and (, have changed names recently, and have scant relationship to ecological boundaries.

So much so that they continue to hinder, rather than help, any biogeographical study of the region.

For iNaturalists other than South Africans, I can summarise this problem as follows.

The Latin specific name 'campestris' simply means 'of the veld'.

('Veld' is Afrikaans for 'field'.)

The main/typical area of 'veld' is the Highveld.

Yet, as things stand, it seems beyond us to account for the occurrence of R. campestris in the Highveld, past or present, in any coherent way, including even the subspecies concerned.

South Africa has been intensively studied by naturalists.

Yet, somehow, we seem to remain as mystified about the steenbok - possibly the 'commonest' small wild ungulate in the country - on the Highveld as we might be about some newly-discovered species of duiker in the equatorial Congo.

Also see

Posted on 30 September, 2022 23:36 by milewski milewski


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