Oregon Zoo welcomes rare African bontebok calf


Species has an incredible conservation story as several hundred years ago there were only 17 of these antelopes left on the planet

The Oregon Zoo announced the birth of a African bontebok calf, according to a release, which marked “the latest chapter in what’s considered one of history’s most inspiring conservation success stories.”1 The calf was born on April 1, 2023, to Winter, an 8-year-old bontebok in the zoo’s Africa savanna area.

Two-week old African bontebok calf with mom, Winter (All images photo courtesy of Oregon Zoo).

A close-up of the cute calf.

“This cute little guy is living proof of the impact people can have if we work together for wildlife,” stated Kelly Gomez, who oversees the zoo’s Africa section, in the release. “A couple hundred years ago, there were only 17 bontebok left on the planet, and the species was headed for almost certain extinction.”

The calf weighs about 18 lbs and appears healthy though it did not nurse right away. Veterinarians had to step in and administer a transfusion of plasma from his father, banked ahead of time as a precaution, to ensure he received the necessary antibodies to fight off any potential infection.

“We gave him a couple supplemental bottle-feedings and then returned him to mom,” Gomez said. “And then overnight, he was nursing just fine. He’s a sturdy little guy, and quite handsome.”

When the calf’s a little older and the weather warms up, he will begin exploring outside with the other bonteboks for zoo visitors to see.

Though many today are unaware of the history of the bontebok, the Nature Conservancy states that this animal “deserves a place in the annals of conservation history.”2

“It is arguably the first African animal saved from human-caused extinction,” said Matthew L. Miller, in the conservancy’s science blog.2 “Its rescue is flat-out one of the most dramatic conservation success stories anywhere.”

Like the American bison at the time, the bontebok was nearly hunted to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries by Dutch settlers to southern Africa, who felt the endemic antelope were pests there competing for farmland. Another antelope species, the bluebuck, was deemed extinct in 1799, and it seemed the bontebok would follow this same path.

By 1837, all that remained between the last 17 bontebok on earth and definite extinction was a fence. That year, some sympathetic farmers enclosed the herd safely inside their own property, effectively making the first African antelope preserve.1 The reason this worked was because while other antelope species (eg, the impala, eland, and kudu) can jump 10 feet into the air or higher, bontebok can only make small leaps and could thus be contained by ordinary livestock fencing.

“The ability to jump,” Miller said, in the release, “would have been a leap into extinction.”1

In 1931, Bontebok National Park was created, and the species gradually started to make a comeback. Currently, the bontebok population is estimated to be around 2,500 to 3,000.

“It’s an incredible conservation story,” Gomez said. “And hopefully, we can inspire more successes like this for the future.”


  1. Zoo welcomes bouncing baby bontebok. News release. Oregon Zoo. April 10, 2023. Accessed April 17, 2023. https://www.oregonzoo.org/news/2023/04/zoo-welcomes-bouncing-baby-bontebok
  2. Miller ML. Bontebok can’t jump: the most dramatic conservation success you’ve never heard about. The Nature Conservancy. Accessed April 17, 2023. https://blog.nature.org/2015/07/08/bontebok-cant-jump-the-most-dramatic-conservation-success-youve-never-heard-about
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