Namibia's smallest antelope whistles when it senses danger - News - Gondwana Collection

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Namibia's smallest antelope whistles when it senses danger

Avatar of inke inke - 18. January 2019 - Environment

Dik-diks mark their territory by leaving a secretion from their preorbital gland on twigs and blades of grass.

Dirk Heinrich

Animals prick up their ears at the shrill whistling sound and flee. It takes a while before the whistler is identified, if he has not taken flight himself and is betrayed by moving. It is not easy to discover a Damara dik-dik standing dead still in dense vegetation. These hare-sized little antelopes owe their name dik-dik to their warning call. The shoulder height of Namibia's smallest antelope is less than 40 centimetres. Dik-diks are mostly spotted for the first time during visits to the Namutoni area of Etosha National Park, but they also occur at the Waterberg, in the Erongo Mountains, on numerous farms in the central western parts and in the northwest of Namibia. As for other countries, they are only found in a small section of south-western Angola.

In 1991, the year after Namibia gained independence, scientists showed great interest in the dik-diks of Etosha National Park. Dr Arlene Kumamoto and Steve Kingswood, who worked in California at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, wanted to find out whether the dik-diks in Namibia are the same species as the dik-diks 2000 kilometres away in East Africa, or a subspecies of the Kirk dik-dik or even a species in their own right. Blood and tissue samples were taken of dik-diks in the Namutoni area under the supervision of Chief Nature Conservation Official Wouter Hugo. The animals had been sedated for British researcher Peter Brotherton from the University of Cambridge and his assistant John Adams. The two British scientists wanted to study the behaviour of the dwarf antelopes. To this end at least 16 dik-diks were fitted with ear tags and two with a tracking device.

Namutoni's Chief Nature Conservation Officer Wouter Hugo and his colleague Johan Bester in 1991, fitting a dik-dik with a tracking device. It wasn’t very easily done: they had to get down onto their knees for the job.

Namibia’s dik-dik, the Damara dik-dik (Madoqua (kirkii) damarensis), is now regarded as a separate species. Other species of this genus are the Salt’s dik-dik, the Silver dik-dik, Günther’s dik-dik and Kirk dik-dik. The latter is divided into three subspecies: the Kirk, the Naivasha and the Ugogo dik-dik.

Dik-diks are even-toed ungulates with large eyes and elongated tubular snouts. They weigh about five kilograms and feed mainly on leaves, flowers and fruit. They stand on their hind legs, especially in the dry season, to get to leaves up to one metre high. In the rainy season, when everything is green, they also eat grass. Dik-dik pairs bond for life. Each pair has its own territory which is marked in numerous places, mostly by the male, with a secretion from the preorbital gland. Dung piles are also part of marking the territory. Males use their front hooves to cover the female’s dung piles with sand and then drop their own dung onto it. 

After a gestation period of about 170 days a single fawn weighing 620-760 grams is born. At the age of about eight months the young dik-dik is forced to leave the territory of the parents. Only males have horns, which are about eight centimetres long and pointed. Both sexes have a tuft of hair on the crown that stands upright when they are excited.

The watchful little antelopes have numerous enemies. They are hunted not only by leopard, caracal, rock python and occasionally cheetah, but also by large birds of prey such as the Martial Eagle. Many years ago nature conservation officer Raymond Dujardin saw a Verreaux's Eagle Owl catching a dik-dik in the Namutoni area. 

In times of drought Damara dik-diks often have to stand on their hind legs to reach the last few leaves on shrubs. With their grey-brown colouring the small antelope become almost invisible among dense shrubs in the arid landscape.
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