A Rare Antelope Is Photographed Alive in the Wild for the First Time

A Rare Antelope Is Photographed Alive in the Wild for the First Time
Two Walter's duikers caught by a camera trap in a Togolese nature park. (Image: Assou et al. 2021)

A recent camera trap survey in a Togolese nature reserve has turned up the first-ever images of a live Walter’s duiker, a petite African antelope species, in the wild. The traps also caught aardvarks and a mongoose species, neither of which had previously been reported in Togo. The team’s findings were published this week in the African Journal of Ecology.

“Camera traps are a game changer when it comes to biodiversity survey fieldwork,” co-author Neil D’Cruze, a wildlife biologist at the University of Oxford, said in an email. “I’ve spent weeks roughing it in tropical forests seemingly devoid of any large mammal species. Yet when you fire up the laptop and stick in the memory card from camera traps that have been sitting there patiently during the entire trip — and see species that were there with you the entire time — it’s like being given a glimpse into a parallel world.”

Using camera traps allowed the research team to stop relying on information from bushmeat hunters, who bring carcasses of the rare animal to market. Instead, to get a pulse on the region’s fauna, they planted 100 camera traps around Fazao-Malfakassa National Park in central Togo, which covers an area a little larger than Houston, Texas. By the time the survey concluded, the team managed to identify 32 mammal species, which brings the total number of reported mammal species in the area to nearly 60.

“This graceful antelope has, for the last 200 years, displayed a great talent for avoiding scientists, but proven tragically less adept at avoiding nets, snares and hunting dogs,” said co-author David Macdonald, a zoologist at the University of Oxford and director of the university’s WildCRU conservation unit, in a university release. “Plotting their whereabouts in bushmeat markets is roughly analogous to plotting the habits of deer in the UK by mapping their occurrence on butchers’ slabs.”

The small antelope joins several other antelope species native to the park. First recognised as a new species in 2010 after comparing bushmeat specimens to other known duiker specimens, the recently imaged duiker is the first live one catalogued by scientists. It is so few and far between that it doesn’t even have an endangered listing; the International Union for Conservation of Nature notes its status as “data-deficient.” Obviously, the WildCRU team is seeking to change that.

The team also found an aardvark, the first spotted in the country. (Image: Assou et al. 2021)The team also found an aardvark, the first spotted in the country. (Image: Assou et al. 2021)

“We hope our exciting find — the first live image of Walter’s duiker in the wild — will increase the call for further protection of our remaining forest and savannah,” said co-author Gabriel Segniagbeto, a taxonomist at the University of Lomé in Togo, in the same press release. He emphasised recognising “the importance of the protected area system of Togo, which acts as a vital stronghold for a rich diversity of wild mammals.”

According to the researchers, Fazao-Malfakassa National Park is the only protected area in the country where the African savannah and forest elephants coexist. Savannah elephants are endangered and forest elephants critically so, according to an IUCN report released last week.

That makes on-the-ground camera trap work all the more important, as field biologists try to map out the range and extent of the protected area’s biodiversity — duikers and all.