Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/283

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275
COLOR—SPEED—FOOD.

both horns are perfect, and one has a side view of the animal, they appear as one and the same, from which circumstance many believe the gemsbok to be the unicorn[1] of Scripture.

The gemsbok is a truly noble beast. The adult male (about the size of an ass) not unfrequently attains nearly four feet in height at the shoulder, and about ten in extreme length. The general color of the coat is a "vinous buff." The female is very similar in appearance, but slighter in form. The calves are of a reddish cream-color, which, as they grow up, becomes paler or whitish. They are easily tamed, but sometimes exhibit a vicious and treacherous disposition. Hans more than once domesticated them, and I myself have had the young alive.

The gemsbok may be said to be gregarious in its habits; for, though rarely seen together in any great number, it is not often met singly.

Of all the larger quadrupeds of South Africa with which I can claim acquaintance, the gemsbok is undoubtedly the swiftest. Its speed is nearly equal to that of the horse. Unless a man be a "light weight" and very well mounted, he has little chance of coming up with it.

The food of the gemsbok consists of grass, succulent plants (often of a very acrid taste), shrubs, &c.

As with several other animals indigenous to Southern Africa, water is not supposed to be essential to the existence of the gemsbok. Gordon Cumming, indeed, tells us "that it never by any chance tastes water." But this, I apprehend, is a mistake; for I have not only seen it on several occasions while in the very act of drinking, but perfectly well authenticated instances have come to my knowledge where whole troops of these animals have been discovered either dead or in a dying state near pools purposely poisoned by the

  1. For some curious remarks on the unicorn, see Barrow, vol. ii., p. 269, et seq.