Animal Spotlight: Zebra Duiker

Taxonomycephalophus_zebra

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Genus: Cephalophus
  • Species: Zebra
  • Other Common Names: Banded Duiker, Zebra Antelope
  • Average Body Length: 85-90 cm (2.8 to 3 feet)
  • Average Shoulder Height: 45 cm (1.5 feet)
  • Average Tail Length: 15 cm (6 inches)
  • Average Weight: 17.5 kg (39 lbs)
  • Male Horn Size: 4-5 cm (1.5 to 2 inches)
  • Female Male Horn: 2-3 cm (approx 1 inch)

The Zebra duiker is one of the 21 duiker species. Most duikers are small, with the largest being the Yellow-backed duiker, and are forest-dwellers. Duikers can be characterized as stout, compact bodies with arched backs and thin legs. They probably closely resemble the ancestors of all bovids, which includes the antelopes, cattle, sheep, and goats.

Unlike other duikers, the Zebra duiker males and females sport the short, stout, and very sharp horns. The horns are positioned where the ears are located, pointing to the rear.

The Zebra duiker is named for its 12 to 15 black bands that stretch down its back. Its coat color varies from light gold to a reddish-brown, with a pale cream underside. They have large, moist snouts and large eyes, but their ears are small compared to those of more open-living antelopes.

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Brent Buffman

This unique duiker is a diurnal species, meaning that they are awake during the day. The Zebra duiker is generally quiet and shy, therefore, rarely seen in the wild. It is thought that the species is territorial and based on the heavy scars found on many individuals, appears to fight vigorously. They are normally solitary creatures but can be found as a breeding pair.

These duikers are found primarily in the closed-canopy rainforests of mid-western part of Africa. Mostly distributed in eastern central Liberia, they also inhabit regions of Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.

Diet

Zebra duikers are fruit and foliage browsers, mainly eating leaves, shoots, flowers, and seasonal fruits. Due to its short stature, the Zebra duiker is unable to forage from tall trees. Much of the food they consume is provided by climbing or flying animals that may dislodge fruit or leaves to the forest floor.

Duikers are interesting because they will also eat meat if given the chance. They will scavenge carrion, and on occasion, catch and eat birds or other small animals.

Anatomy

The Zebra duiker has one of the most distinctive coats of any mammal. Its light gold or reddish-brown body is covered with 12 to 16 black or dark brown transverse stripes. They begin behind the shoulders and end where the tail begins. Each stripe is widest at the spine and tapers as it runs down the flanks.

kzhnbfyLike the zebra, the arrangement of stripes is unique to each individual. The front legs have a dark garter-like markings; the hind legs have the same band markings covered with a tufted gland.

The stripes on the back of the Zebra duiker are a visual defense mechanism. A predator’s attention is focused on the animal’s movement, rather than the body outlines. The distinctive stripes are also similar to those of the now extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). So much so that several putative thylacine skins are actually the duikers’.

Another adaptation that the Zebra duiker has is its thick skull. It was suggested that the thick skull aids in breaking open the hard shells and rinds of large forest fruits, a food source not available to many other forest inhabitants.

Or, it is possible that because Zebra duikers head-butt each other in their displays is the reason for the thick skulls. It could be males fighting for territory or for access to females. But, females also have the thickened skull and horns. It is likely that both genders will also take part in defending themselves, their territory, and their mate.

Conservation

Since 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Zebra duiker as vulnerable.

It was once estimated that the total population to be about 28,000 in 1999. However, a 2001 research argued that 15,000 is a more accurate population estimate. The population trend is believed to be downward. In the last 15 years, the duiker’s population has fallen as much as 30%. Now it is considered to be around 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline of 10% over the next 15 years.

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This is due to hunting for bushmeat and deforestation. Many duikers of central Africa are heavily hunted by humans. They are considered a staple of the bushmeat trade, along with many monkey species.

However, they are much more at risk from the continued destruction and fragmentation of its forest home. Large-scale immigration, timber extraction, forest clearance, and agricultural settlement have caused a rapid decline in available habitat.

They are considered to be the least adaptable of all West African duiker species to deforestation, therefore the least likely to survive hunting pressure and habitat degradation. There is still reasonably extensive remaining forests in Liberia that could aid in effective conservation of the duiker. The Zebra duikers’ long-term survival is dependent on the protection of its habitat and control of poaching.

Interesting Facts

  • Duiker means ‘diver’ in Afrikaans, referring to their diving into dense vegetation to flee from humans and predators.
  • Females are consistently larger than males, but males possess longer horns
  • Juveniles appear slightly bluer in coloration
  • Unlike most other duiker species, Zebra duikers lack the tuft on the forehead
  • A 2001 phylogenetic study divided the genus Cephalophus into three distinct lineages: the giant duikers, east African red duikers, and west African duikers. However, two species, including the Zebra duiker remains undecided as to where they belong.

References + For More Reading

Cephalophus zebra, Zebra Duiker

Colours of Wildlife – Zebra Duiker

Arkive: Cephalophus zebra

Animal Diversity: Cephalophus zebra

IUCN: Cephalophus zebra

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