There’s every reason to marvel at the Bontebok - they’re not only exquisite, but also living proof that, with the right attitude, threatened extinction can be reversed to steady growth. Today's global Bontebok population is approximately 1950, but in the early 1800s there were only 17 left due to overhunting and extensive killing as pests. Fortunately there were people like the Van der Byl, Van Breda and Albertyn families who, at the time, set aside portions of their properties in the Western Cape to form a temporary reserve for the Bontebok. And this is how we now have the incredible privilege of enjoying the beauty of this exquisite chocolate-brown antelope with it's white underbelly, a white stripe from the forehead to the tip of the nose, and a distinctive white patch around its tail.
The very first Bontebok National Park was proclaimed in 1931, and was originally situated in the Bredasdorp region. The Swellendam area, however, proved to be a more suitable habitat for the Bontebok and to give conservation its best shot, it was decided to trans-locate the fragile herd and create the new conservation area that we know today. It turned out to be a good move to the extent that many re-introduced Bontebok populations to other protected areas originate from these herds. This is necessary as the Park can only support a maximum of 250 Bontebok and must trans-locate surplus animals to maintain balanced biodiversity conservation.
Today, Vergelegen is home to 30 splendid Bontebok (colourful buck) who share their protected territory with a herd of indigenous Nguni cattle. When conservationists, realised that the adjacent Helderberg Nature Reserve offered insufficient grazing to its growing Bontebok population, the first ‘Vergelegen’ Bontebok were relocated to Vergelegen Estate.To improve the management of these antelopes, and consequently their conservation status, social studies on Bontebok have been completed at Vergelegen as well as the Helderberg and Tygerberg Nature Reserves. As part of a 5-year programme, Dr Anja Wasilewski of Marburg University in Germany travelled annually to South Africa to gain a better understanding of the Bontebok’s complex social systems, and in so-doing, enable game wardens and other owners to further enhance the herds’ welfare. She mainly researched social bonds, relationships, scent communication and use of space. So far she has dedicated 2100 hours of her time to the project, with another 3100 hours from her students. "She has taken meticulous ID photographs showing each animal’s characteristics such as horn shape and size, blaze type and scars,” said Gerald. "I can confidently say that Dr Wasilewski recognises the animals from every possible perspective! Even more so, she knows intimately all youngsters born since 2005.”