Gemsbok Collection - Part of Joe's new exclusive Fine Art Range
Gemsbok fight analysis
During my recent trip to the Gemsbok Park (very dry end of February) I spent a few days observing and capturing images of the Gemsbok skirmishes around a water hole. I particularly concentrated on the behavior before and during the activities around the waterhole between the animals.
I have always attempted to predict which the good fighters were while they were going about their normal business through attitude, size and injuries amongst others.
During my recent visit it was clear that the mating was a priority so when the herd gathered around the waterhole the females are in close proximity of males and males close to each other. This increased the likelihood of conflict. Certain bulls sneaked up to the water holes from behind and took their chances when the females were actually drinking with their heads down in the water to jump on top for a quick "mate". The females are not impressed with this. But it almost always triggered conflict between two or more bulls.
So whether it is because they want to drink in a pecking order or want to sort out the mating hierarchy list I must lean towards the aggression associated with selecting
(instinct) females as a cause for serious fighting.
When two males decide that they are going to fight is determined by some frequency or very invisible behavior or attitude as some times one can see the sudden minute change in direction towards another bull, the ears or eyes that is followed by an accepted challenge in also changing direction from its normal path to the water. This is done as to get the right angle for the first attack, the most crucial strategy besides the genetic makeup as a fighter. At other times they would walk peacefully together or past each other and at the blink of the eye and no warning rush in for head contact. It is surprising how quick they react as being stabbed sideways by a opponent could be fatal. So they will ensure that the body is straightened as quick as possible to the angle of attack.
We as humans tend to think the male with the biggest horns must be the stronger fighter. It really is not. Then we think that the size of the animal must be the second most important factor. Well it certainly counts as well as it certainly counts to have the longest horns as they could reach further down and afflict injury on a larger target strictly spoken just like the reach advantage of a boxer. The cows certainly pack mean long thin horns that kill lion frequently when used as a defense mechanism for the calves
But the longest thin horns also break off during fights serving a short purpose as a defensive and offensive weapon or weapons.
The most important factor seems to be tactics and agility where the quick good eye counts certainly a lot. Training as a young animal could also impact its fighting ability later on as well as the deep instinct to mate and to mate with the right female and to mate soon could be cause the animal to perform above his weight at the height of his mating drive. Meaning all the other advantages we mentioned. And then the state of health will be a great factor . When a animal comes out of the dunes or are weak to some environmental or health reasons his chances is reduced to win a fight he could have won in good condition. Once again similar to a boxer.
In this image the focus is on the eyes showing the focus as well as the pressure the heads impact each other as the eyes if captured at the precise moment of impact will bulge outwards as somewhat in this image. It is wide open to be able to see opponents entry angle of the horns and to position its body so as to not be in the direction of any of the horns. A gemsbok with a funny angle horn can inflict surprising injuries.
During the locking and bumping of horns there are slight sideways movements to inflict injury to the neck and chest and rib area. This is the determining factor by large that could determine the outcome of a fight. Some bulls show a huge amount of injury on one side of various fights and not due to one. When you look closely you can observe a slight daze in the one eye.
Now if one has to list the most important element of the gemsbok fight , the horns and the strategic and tactical use of the actual horns must certainly count as 80 -90 % .(necessity to win a fight ). I have seen many one horned animals in the Park on this trip in the southern area. More so than 5 years ago and more than 10 years ago. I don't know whether the population increased or if there are other contributing factors.
When the horns lock on impact one of the other important strategies is to keep the opponents horn tips away from the body. So it must defend and attack almost simultaneously very similar to a sword fighter. Same principles apply.
I have also observed a animal without any horns or piece of horn that had worked out a strategy to not stand back for those that thought he was an easy target. I will show his fight later.
When I decided to study the fighting strategies of Gemsbok I witnessed this amazing fight.
A hornless Gemsbok I saw during my first two days in the park was waiting about 100 meters away from a waterhole for the herd to drink and fight for positions at the waterhole. He knew he had little to no defense against the big fighters. He was in a good condition however and I didn't detect a submissive attitude. Never the less it was quite funny to see a hornless Gemsbok and wondered how he lost his set of swords. Either a massive impact or a deficiency or continuous fighting.
I captured a lot of images of Gemsbok fighting around the waterhole for approximately one hour and when the most of the Gemsbok had moved away from the water and a few left, hornless started walking slowly towards the water. When he got close those bulls that probably didnt rank high and therefore the reason they drank last were left around the hole. One bull immediately...
tried to show his worth when hornless was approaching and started walking towards him. Hornless never slowed down and walked straight up to the water and him. When the Gemsbok with the horns stormed in hornless moved one side to avoid the tips of the horns until it saw a opening and quickly moved forward knowing once he is on the inside the tips of the other gemsbok was harmless. It stormed in and headbutted in short succession the horned bull with such rapid hits I have never seen from a gemsbok. He has adapted his fighting style and as soon as the horned gembsbok turned sideways he moved out until he had a slight opportunity to move right in for the close fight again. To my surprise he actually won the fight as the horned gemsbok seemed so flushed that he walked away. It was also not play fighting , it was the real mcCoy. Hornless stayed on the fringes of the herd during my stay but with the same clever but safe attitude. I have no doubt he had the same strategy with a female or two as well. On the images one can clearly see when the hornless gemsbok was in close the horns were quite harmless to a degree if they stayed straight up