Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Kopjes Help Klipspringer to Mock Hungry Cheetah in Serengeti

Kopjes are very small hills totally made up of ancient rock which protrude from the underground below the layer of volcanic ashes which formed the soil of Serengeti ecosystem.

Standing majestically around plains of savannah with vegetation dominated by bushes and grass these are beautiful metamorphic rocks consisting of very hard granite materials capable of resisting effects of rise and fall of weather, rain and harsh full tropical winds for millions of years ago.

The Kopjes have strange shape of round and round boulder which may stand above the endless and almost flat land called plains in height which may go up from few feet to hundred meters above the ground. Miraculously on top of some of these wonderful natural structures there are strange plants which have strong roots capable of penetrating into the rocks to extract nutritious materials enabling some tall trees with a very wide green canopy to stand on top of the Kopjes.

The unusual structures attract many animals within the Serengeti ecosystem such as elephants, leopards, lions and cheetah to come to relax under the shade of trees available around and on top of the Kopjes. Some mammals don't only relax or graze but reside on the Kopjes, these are small size antelope called klipspringer or Oreotragus Oreotragus by scientists around the World.

Klipspringers have been able to lead a reasonably life on top and around the Kopjes because of their high ability of sustainance for a very long time without drinking fresh water from streams, rivers, or lakes where predators trap other herbivorous who can't control their thirsty throats.

Vegetation on the Kopjes is dominated by wild figs the deciduous tree and bushes which together provide to klipspringers and rock hyrax delicious fruits and leaves rich in water and other nutritious materials derived by their long powerful roots which are able to penetrate deep into the ground.

During annual migration when Zebra, Wildebeest and most of impala migrate from southern to the northern part of Serengeti ecosystem the number of small herbivorous mammal who are main prey for cheetah decrease to the lowest level forcing predators like cheetah to hunt into everywhere including on top of the Kopjes. Sometime a group of hungry cheetahs may climb on top of Kopjes to have a good look of the area but at this point klipspringer will use their brown colour as camouflage within the rocks.

Cheetahs hunt prey by sighting them from 10 to 30 meters then embark on a very short but fast speed of up to 70 miles per hour which practically is possible only on open flat grassland and totally impossible on top or around the Kopjes where the klipspringer dwells.

If a hunger stricken cheetah decides to wonder into Kopjes to hunt for a klipspringer in Serengeti ecosystem it will mostly lose its time and precious energy because the small antelope is the master of this area.

Klipspringers are very smart social antelopes who form breeding pair which browse and graze together on and around the kopjes where they feed on two separate intervals which allow a female to eat while the male is watching around for a possible predator. In the middle of Serengeti while on top of Kopjes klipspringers lead a romantic life where couples help and love one another with warmth.

When one of them identifies danger it will erect hairs on its back signaling an approaching danger to its fellow klipspringer who may be busy grazing on the ground. It's very easy for a klipspringer to identify any incoming danger due to high ability of their revolving ears to peak very small sound even from slight movement of predators on dry vegetation on the ground.

They have sharp eyes located on the either sides of the head which work in conjunction with a powerful noses equipped with special sniffing ability capable of peaking and recognising a smell of their main enemies like leopard, lion and cheetah from a very reasonable distant. At this point klipspringer is able to do two things to serve its life from the jaws of hunters, which may be camouflage or running away depending on the level of the danger, position from a predator and a possible escape opening.

To mislead their enemy the klipspringer may decide to show or advertise to a predator like cheetah who is approaching them by jumping into the air with their legs straight and stiffen to hit the ground for a big sound which shows strength and agility to discourage the aggressor. The jumping is done simultaneously whereby all members go up into their displaying their white back to the predator to tell them 'see what we are capable of doing, so don't waste your time and energy with us you will end up with empty stomach'.

This is what is called pronging or stotting and it is spectacularly displayed with fast and slow motion by a group of klipspringer in the middle of Savannah escaping from a danger, a physically fit antelope is capable of jumping up to 2.5 meters into the air confuse predator who may be targeting them. Klipspringers have strong legs which enable them to stand firmly on tips of their hooves of their four legs placed in a very tiny pointed surface equal to small coin without losing balance.

If a pair decides to run a female will be the first to make a move at a top speed of 65 mile per hour followed by her husband to the top of Kopjes where it's not easy for a cheetah to follow and catch them.

Even during a harsh dry season when the deciduous tree and bush lose their leaves to ovoid lose of water klipspringer don't move away from the Kopjes to wander into river banks because they drink water trapped into holes and cracks.

All this makes it almost impossible for cheetahs to depend on klipspringers as they do to Thomson's gazelle who grazes on open grassland. Across Serengeti National Park, Moru are most famous kopjes but Mwiba are the prettiest and ancient one while in Nabi area you find the most common Kopjes.

Serengeti National Park is regarded as one of most beautiful park in the world not only because of its name which means endless plains in Maasai language which expresses its ecology but also because of its inhabitants who are vegetation, herbivorous and carnivorous competing for life or death. We need to preserve this park for the present and future generation as it has been declared by UNES CO as a World Heritage Site.

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