Colours of Wildlife: Red Duiker

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Red Duiker

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Red Duiker by Willem.

This little antelope is a Red Duiker, Cephalophus natalensis. It is not the only reddish-coloured duiker in Africa, and also goes under the name Natal Duiker – though once again it is not confined to Natal at all. It also occurs in Mpumalanga and Limpopo in South Africa, and in addition, in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. It reaches a height of about 45 cm/18" at the shoulder, and typically weighs 12-14 kg/26-31 lbs. Both sexes have horns, but they're tiny – about 3.5 cm/1.5" in the female and 7 cm/3" in the male. Often, they're completely hidden in the long tuft of hair that this duiker, like other species, have on top of its head. Its scientific genus name 'Cephalophus' indeed means 'crested head'. This species is a close relative of the Blue Duiker.

Generalist Gatherers

Duikers are forest foragers. Within Africa, many different species occur in different kinds of forests, from lowland rainforest to mountain forest and thicket. The red duiker occurs in forest remnants in South Africa, from Kwazulu-Natal northwards. Less than half a percent of South Africa is covered in indigenous forest, so there's not much habitat available. Red duikers will often move short distances outside the forest, but will flee back into it at any sign of danger. Their name 'duiker' means 'diver', and refers to the way they dive into thick cover when alarmed.

In the forest, red duikers mostly forage by picking up freshly fallen leaves, flowers and fruit. They tend to associate with troops of monkeys, such as (in South Africa) vervets and Samango monkeys. They might enjoy the company and the funny antics of the youngsters, but they also benefit from monkey activity. Monkeys often shake loose leaves and flowers, and in their own foraging will drop fruits either for not being tasty enough, or accidentally. The duiker can then pick these up and eat them. The monkeys also might see danger, from their higher vantage points, and warn the duiker (not to mention each other). Endearingly, the monkeys seem to enjoy the company of the duikers – they've even been seen to groom duikers! If you remember, grooming is serious socialising for monkeys.

In my painting you'll see that this duiker has a prominent slit in its face. This is the opening for a large facial gland. It exudes a strongly scented secretion, that the duiker rubs against bushes, twigs and the trunks of trees. This marks its territory with its scent. Duiker couples will even greet by rubbing their faces together to anoint each other with their scent! They usually roam alone, or in couples. Sometimes a female will be attended by one or two of her children. Occasionally, these duikers will associate in groups of 3-5 animals. Juveniles wander around freely, but adult males will challenge others who intrude in their territory. Most of the time the intruder will yield to being chased away, but sometimes he will stand his ground and the two will fight. Their horns, while short, are very sturdy and sharp and they might seriously injure each other.

Ordinarily though this is a very peaceful little antelope. It feeds mainly during the day, and sleeps at night in a favourite resting place well-hidden in a dense bush or tangle of vegetation. Its actual feeding is concentrated into short bouts mostly in the early morning and late afternoon, in between which it ruminates, re-chewing its food like many other hoofed mammals do to extricate more nutrition from it.

I've only once glimpsed a red duiker in a forest. The species is quite rare in South Africa, and doesn't adapt well to captivity and so isn't present in any zoos I know of. It is very nervous and skittish and the typical activity in a zoo disturbs it too much. But red duikers can become very tame if hand-reared from when they're very young. In the wild, duikers can breed at any time of the year; the female gives birth to just a single lamb, which weighs about 1 kg/2 lbs and is very cute!

Overall, red duikers are not threatened, but they're vulnerable to their habitat being fragmented and converted to cultivation over much of their range. In South Africa they're present in several nature reserves and national parks. At least here, most indigenous forests are now protected and thus their habitat is reasonably well safeguarded.

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