OUR COASTAL TREASURE
TERRESTRIAL MAMMALS OF THE GREATER ST FRANCIS AREA
Spectacular male bushbuck photographed at the St Francis Airpark (Photo credit: Gregg Darling)
We are privileged to have beautiful natural areas around St Francis. Many different types of land mammals make their homes in the reserves and wild places close to our villages, and we are sometimes lucky enough to spot them, and get a glimpse into their daily lives.
If you would like to learn more about the fascinating mammals:
Click here to discover the carnivores (otter, honey badger, small grey mongoose, large grey mongoose, water mongoose, caracal, genet)
Click here to meet the rodents (porcupine, common molerat, vlei rat)
Click here to find out about lagomorphs (scrub hare)
Click here to discover the insectivores (Hottentot golden mole)
Click here to learn about primates in our area (vervet monkey)
Click here to find out about even-toed ungulates (bushpig, bushbuck, grysbok, common duiker, blue duiker)
Order: CARNIVORA (Carnivores)
Cape clawless otter relaxing in the dune sand (Photo credit: Trent Simpson, St Francis Bay)
(Photo credit: Alma Botha, Kromme River)
Otters are regularly seen in the greater St Francis area and have largely become synonymous with this part of the coast. They inhabit the wilder areas along the rocky shores of the Cape St Francis point, and the Wildside to the west of the Seal Point lighthouse. They may be seen fishing along the shore towards Oyster Bay and are also regular visitors to the canals and to Port St Francis, where they often shelter at night.
Any patient visitor to these parts may be rewarded with a view of otters foraging in the nearshore waters or coming ashore in the evening to rest up overnight in the coastal bush.
These robust animals are covered in dark brown fur and have flattened tails that they use for swimming. They have rounded heads with large whiskers and slit-like nostrils that can be closed when they dive underwater. They have characteristic light-coloured fur on the chin and chest. Adults reach a length of over 1.25 m. Otters have noticeable webs between their toes on each hind foot and their spoor is unmistakeable because of the absence of claws. Their footprints are commonly found in the dune sand out towards the Cape St Francis point.
Cape clawless otters forage singly or in pairs, searching and diving in the nearshore waters for their favourite prey that includes fish, crabs and the occasional octopus. They deposit characteristic scats (droppings) in latrine areas at intervals on the high-tide rocks along the coast. The scats are easy to identify as they are packed with fish scales and fragmented crab shells.
Two young are born at any time of the year, in a nest burrow that is usually dug under the dense indigenous bush on the slopes inland of the rocky shore.
(Photo credit: Trent Simpson, St Francis Bay)
Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis)
Honey badgers are nocturnal predators that prey on mice, birds, reptiles, frogs, scorpions, spiders, insects and their larvae, and honey. They have striking black and white colouration and are known as fearless, feisty animals that will defend themselves ferociously against attack.
Because of their habit of raiding chicken runs and beehives, honey badgers have been persecuted and their populations are decreasing across the southern African subregion. In addition, suitable habitat is less available for them now than in the past, which also adds to their decline in numbers. They are occasionally recorded by the camera traps set up in the Cape St Francis nature reserves, which alert us to their presence. They are otherwise seldom seen, being active mostly at night and alone.
Honey badgers caught in action in the St Francis reserves by the FOSTER camera traps. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Honey badgers have an acute sense of smell that helps them locate their prey. They are great diggers, and will make themselves burrows to rest in and dig up underground prey for food. They have very long, knife-like claws on their front feet for this purpose. Young are born during the summer, usually in pairs.
If you do happen to see a honey badger out foraging, with its distinctive rolling gait and short, stocky legs, consider yourself lucky. These are fascinating mammals that should command our awe and respect rather than our fear or victimization.
(Photo credit: Martin Kraft – CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71095578)
Small Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta)
This small carnivore, sometimes referred to colloquially as a Cape grey mongoose, is a common resident in the greater St Francis area and is often seen moving rapidly on its short legs as it crosses the road. It has a bushy tail and a uniform, grizzled grey coat, and adults weigh between 0.5 and 1 kg. Usually, small grey mongooses are seen singly, as they forage for insects, small rodents, and the occasional bird or bird’s egg. They also eat reptiles, amphibians, carrion and wild fruits.
They are active during the day, between sunrise and sunset, and make use of regular pathways through the vegetation in their own home territory. Because of these habits, it can be quite easy to see these mobile small predators on a regular basis, once you have located one with a nearby territory. They live quite comfortably in proximity to humans but seldom become tame.
Small grey mongooses shelter at night under dense vegetation, or in crannies between rocks or holes in the ground. One to three young are born, usually between August and December.
The small grey mongoose is endemic to the southern African subregion and is found nowhere else in the world.
Small grey mongoose recorded during the day by a camera trap in one of the St Francis reserves. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Large Grey Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon)
This species is commonly found on the fringes of rivers, dams and vleis, in reed beds and swamps, where it forages for mice, birds, frogs and reptiles. It is much larger than the previous species, with adults weighing between 2.5 and 4 kg. Its total length may be as much as 1 m, including its long, black-tipped tail. It has a shaggy appearance and the hair on its hind quarters is long enough to obscure the back legs. Its tail is also shaggy and is longer than the length of the head and body combined.
Foraging is done mostly during the day, but individuals can also be seen moving around at night. They tend to occur in pairs or small family parties, as they search for food or rest in the shelter of riverine bush or reeds. This species has a wide distribution on the African continent, as well as being found in Europe and in the Middle East.
Litters of two to four young are born in early summer.
Water Mongoose (Atilax paludinosus)
(Footprint image: Smithers, 1986)
Water mongooses inhabit well-watered areas such as the fringes of swamps, dams, vleis and tidal estuaries. They have a total length of around 85 cm and an average mass of about 3.4 kg. This is a thick-set, fairly robust mongoose with a tail that is much shorter than its body. Individuals are covered with shaggy, long hair that is course and dark. They have broad heads and short muzzles.
They are active from first light in the morning until the day warms up, and then again towards the evening. They are mostly solitary and feed on frogs, crabs, fish, mice and insects.
The best location to see a water mongoose in the St Francis area is around the edges of the lagoon formed by the Kromme River. Here, one regularly sees the characteristic spoor of water mongooses.
They use their unusual, elongated front digits to fork out crabs from holes in the river banks and sand flats, and will eat the flesh out of the crab shell, leaving the shell as a tell-tale sign of their activity. When it walks on muddy surfaces, the mongoose’s elongated digits splay out to support its weight. Unlike other mongooses, it does not have webbing between its digits.
Litters of one or two young are born during the summer months.
Caracal (Caracal caracal)
Caracals are powerful predators that are found in the St Francis area. They stand around 40–45 cm tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 17 kg. With their beautiful, brick-red coats and characteristic tasselled ears, they are instantly recognisable. Their Afrikaans name, Rooikat, sums up their appearance at first glance.
As solitary, nocturnal creatures, they are seldom seen. They are sometimes caught on camera in the St Francis nature reserves, even making their presence felt in the daylight hours at times. Caracals are highly agile hunters and will catch live birds in the air after flushing them from the vegetation. They feed mostly on warm-blooded prey, such as rodents, hares, monkeys, young antelope, mongooses, and birds, including doves, guineafowls and spurfowls.
Sometimes, caracals may become problem animals as they prey on small livestock and chickens, and can even threaten the family pet if surprised.
Litters of up to four young are born in holes in the ground, usually during the summer months.
Caracals recorded by camera traps during the day and the night time in the St Francis nature reserves. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Genet (Genetta genetta and Genetta tigrina)
These beautiful, spotted carnivores are more closely related to mongooses than to cats and are distinguished by their richly spotted coats and black rings around the tail. They also have striking black and white facial markings.
Both the small-spotted (Genetta genetta) and the large-spotted (Genetta tigrina) species occur in the St Francis area and it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two of them. The small-spotted genet’s small spots are not always that small! The key distinguishing feature (in our area at least) seems to be that small-spotted genets have a white tip to the tail whereas large-spotted genets have a black-tipped tail.
One will have to look very hard to see this feature as the genet darts away into the undergrowth . . . in the dark.
(Photo credits: Kürschner: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Large-spotted_Genet_(Genetta_tigrina)_(17356502041)_(crop).jpg)
Genets are nocturnal and usually solitary. They are adept tree climbers and will take to the cover of trees when disturbed. They often live close to human habitation and are not difficult to see in the St Francis area, if one is prepared to go out looking at night.
Their diet consists of small birds and mice, as well as some reptiles, insects, scorpions, spiders and wild fruit. During the day they rest up in holes, only emerging under the cover of darkness to begin hunting.
Litters of up to four young are born in holes in the ground or in hollow trees, usually during the summer months.
Large-spotted genet recorded by a camera trap in the St Francis reserves. Note the diagnostic black tip to the tail. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Order: RODENTIA (Rodents)
Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis)
(Photo credit: Hans Hillewaert / CC BY-SA 4.0 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Hystrix_africaeaustralis.jpg)
Porcupines meeting carefully in the dead of night. Caught by camera trap in one of the St Francis reserves. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Porcupines are rodents, like rats, mice and squirrels. In fact, porcupines are the largest rodents to be found in southern Africa. Adult males have an average weight of 17 kg, while adult females are slightly heavier on average (18.4 kg).
Porcupines are instantly recognisable because of their covering of long, black-and-white, pliable spines, along with stout, sharp quills. There is a crest of long, black-and-white, bristly hair from the top of the head to the shoulders and the rest of the body is covered with short, quills. These quills are hollow and their sharp ends are used for protection.
When a porcupine is threatened, it will first freeze and stand motionless. If further threatened, it may become aggressive, stamping its back feet and rattling its tail quills. It may run sideways or backwards into its adversary, in an attempt to defend itself, and in this way the intruder may be spiked with spear-like quills. Porcupines do not shoot their quills when threatened but quills left behind in the adversary’s flesh after a defensive brush may become embedded and cause sepsis, which can be fatal.
Porcupines are nocturnal and forage singly or in pairs. They eat bulbs, tubers and roots, which they dig up and gnaw. They occasionally add fruit, bark or even carrion to their diets. They are noisy eaters and can sometimes be heard at night as they snuffle, dig, grunt and chew loudly. Gardeners in the St Francis area often complain that the porcupines dig up their prized bulbs and are something of a menace!
Like all rodents, porcupines have incisors that are rootless and continue to grow throughout life. This is important because the teeth get worn away by constant gnawing and need to grow continuously to remain useful for foraging.
These rodents are found in a variety of different habitats and live quite successfully near human settlements. They rest up in burrows or caves during the day and head out in the early evening, sometimes wandering long distances with their ponderous gait. Their droppings are found commonly in the St Francis reserves, giving evidence of their presence. The droppings look like strings of fibrous chipolata sausages, typically all joined together.
Litters of up to three young are born in the summer months, typically in nests built in the holes where the adults rest up during the day.
Common Molerat (Cryptomys hottentotus)
(Photo credit: Elizabeth Archer – https://www.ewt.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/8.-Common-Mole-rats-Cryptomys-spp_LC.pdf
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_mole-rat)
Although molerats look like moles and share their underground burrowing habits, they are not moles. They are rodents, more closely related to rats and mice than to moles, which are insectivores.
Molerats are rodents that are found only in Africa. They burrow in most types of soil, but avoid hard clay or compacted locations. The common molerat is found only in southern Africa and is an abundant small mammal in the St Francis area. Its presence is easily detected by the mounds of soil it pushes up as it digs out or maintains its burrow system. These “mole-hills” pop up across the beautifully manicured lawns of local homes and golf courses, especially after rain when the soil is looser, causing gardeners and green keepers much frustration.
Molerats are not pretty creatures, but they are supremely adapted for a life underground. They have minute, pinhole eyes that don’t see very well – after all, they live in their dark, underground tunnels most of the time. A molerat’s body is elongated like a sausage, and measures between 10 and 16 cm. Its legs are short and its fur is very thick. These characteristics help it to move along and turn corners effectively inside its narrow burrows.
Groups of up to 14 individuals live together and share a burrow system. They dig out the soil with their teeth and front feet, and then shovel it backwards along the tunnel with their hind feet. When they have accumulated a large pile of soil, they push it out through a hole in the ground and this forms a mole-hill around the opening. They also excavate chambers within the burrow system that serve as places to sleep and to raise young. They produce litters of up to five offspring at any time of the year.
These rodents feed on geophytes, meaning plants that have underground storage organs. The molerats tunnel along at the right level underground to find tubers, bulbs and roots that they then gnaw off with their long incisors. Because they use their front teeth for digging with, they have folds of cheek skin that close behind their incisors so that soil does not enter the mouth as they excavate.
Although some people find the mole-hills unsightly and the foraging activity of the molerats destructive, these animals have an important ecological role to play. Their tunnels have the effect of aerating soil and improving the drainage quality of the substratum. And on the occasions when they come out of their burrows at night, to wander around on the surface, they are an important prey item for owls and other nocturnal predators.
Vlei Rat (Otomys irroratus)
These indigenous rodents are medium-sized, with an average overall length of around 24 cm. They are grizzled dark brown in colour, with hair that is long and soft. They have stout bodies, large, rounded ears and relatively short tails.
Vlei rats are diurnal and feed on many different species of plants. They prefer succulent grass stems, which they bite off and chew, using their front feet to guide the stem through their teeth. They occur in habitats where grass is present and leave tell-tale piles of cut off grass stems in their habitual feeding areas.
Although they don’t excavate burrows, they will use the empty burrows dug by other animals. Mostly, however, vlei rats live under dense bushes and nest on the ground. Their paths can be seen leading away from the bushes towards their feeding areas. This is particularly noticeable on the Wildside of Rocky Coast Farm, to the west of Cape St Francis. In this area, the plentiful vlei rats attract puff adders and other snakes that prey upon these active rodents and their young.
Offspring are born in shallow nests that offer little protection from predators. The young are born with long fur, open eyes and upright ears, unlike the young of many other rodents that are born naked and blind. They grow rapidly in the first days of life and are soon able to fend for themselves. Although litters are small, a female may have as many as seven litters in a year.
Vlei rats are very important prey for snakes, owls and other small carnivores in the St Francis area.
Order: LAGOMORPHA (Hares and Rabbits)
Scrub Hare (Lepus saxatilis)
Only this species of hare is found in the St Francis area. It is nocturnal and solitary, and is most likely to be seen as one travels home at night. On overcast evenings they will begin to forage earlier, but are more likely to be seen in the dead of night.
(Photo credit: Bernard Dupont – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scrub_Hare_(Lepus_saxatilis)_(11967323726).jpg)
(Photo credit: Bernard Dupont – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scrub_Hare_(Lepus_saxatilis)_(32944783371).jpg)
Hares are not rodents and do not have the long, ever-growing incisors for gnawing food. Instead, they feed mostly on grass and will choose the greener, younger leaves by preference. They inhabit areas of tall grass, with woodland or bushes nearby, where they can hide.
Scrub hares are covered with soft, woolly, greyish or buff-coloured fur. They have white chests and tummies, and a fluffy tail that is black above and white below. Their legs are long and enable them to leap and jump with speed if they need to make a hasty getaway. Their ears are also long and are finely adapted to picking up the sounds of the night.
Apart from their camouflaged colouration, scrub hares have few defences. They are preyed upon by caracals, and hunted or trapped for food by humans. During the daytime, a scrub hare will lie up in a hollow scraped in the soil, known as a “form”. It will lie absolutely motionless, with its ears folded back on its body, and rely on its coat camouflage to avoid detection. If, however, a threat comes too close, the hare will burst from its form and rush away, zigzagging along to (hopefully) outpace the predator.
Young may be born at any time of the year, in litters of up to three. They are born in a form (shallow scrape in the ground) and not in a burrow, and are fully furred and able to move around by themselves. Scrub hares can have as many as four litters each year.
Order: INSECTIVORA (Insectivores)
Hottentot Golden Mole (Amblysomus hottentotus)
(Photo credit: K Finn – https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/81412702)
Hottentot golden moles have no eyes but their serious claws and hardened nose pad help to dig tunnels under the sand.
Photo credit: Ricky Taylor – https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/13166834
The Hottentot golden mole is an insectivore that feeds on insects, earthworms, snails and sometimes plant matter. It is fossorial, meaning that it spends most of its time underground in burrows. It digs two types of burrows: shallow runs are excavated just under the surface of the soil while the mole travels around, searching for prey, and deeper burrows extend downwards about 50 cm and serve as resting places, latrines or nest chambers.
In the St Francis area, it is common to see the subsurface runs of these moles, particularly in the soft dune sand after rain. They are four to six centimetres in diameter and arched in shape; they can be seen snaking around in the surface sand, where the mole has pushed along just beneath, searching for prey.
Golden moles are supremely adapted for life underground in tunnels. They have no eyes, but rather skin and fur where their eyes should be. They have minute ears, covered with fur to prevent sand from entering the ear canal. The third digit (finger) on each front foot has a long, flattened claw which is a potent digging tool, and there is a hard pad on the top of the nose that is used to shovel sand along as the mole excavates. The body measures around 12 cm in length and the thick fur has a bronzy sheen.
The worldwide distribution of this fascinating species of golden mole is restricted to a narrow coastal strip that runs from the southwestern Cape to northern KwaZulu-Natal. It also inhabits inland KZN and parts of the Free State. In the St Francis area, this species co-occurs with the common molerat and the two species may even share burrows at times. They do not compete for food since the molerat is a rodent that eats roots, bulbs and tubers, while the golden mole is an insectivore that feasts on earthworms, snails and insects.
Not much is known about the reproduction of this species. It gives birth to young in a round nest of dry grass that is built in one of the burrows. The young are born in the summer months and they are pink and naked at first. They weigh a miniscule 4.5 g.
Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)
(Photo credit: T Shahan – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vervet_Monkey_(Chlorocebus_pygerythrus).jpg)
Vervet monkey caught on camera in the St Francis reserves. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Vervet monkeys are a common sight in the gardens, verges and bush around the St Francis area. They are social and travel in small groups, up to a maximum of about 20 individuals. They do their regular rounds, visiting fruiting trees, and are partial to the fruits of the wild plums (Harpephyllum caffrum) that adorn the gardens and pavements of our villages. Although they are mostly vegetarian, they will also eat insects, birds’ eggs and chicks, lizards and small rodents.
There is a strict dominance hierarchy in the vervet troop, which is maintained by using displays of threat and aggression. The troop usually consists of several adult males, several adult females and assorted juveniles and young. The members of the troop communicate by chattering and grunting continuously, while keeping an eye out for predators or other threats in the air or on the ground. They are vigilant at all times and very effective at warning one another of possible dangers.
Vervets are active during the daytime and sleep at night in trees with dense canopies. They are very adaptable in terms of diet, but do require large trees in which to sleep, and a good supply of water – they must drink every day. Because they commonly eat fruits and seeds, vervets are important seed dispersers and help maintain the diversity of species in natural vegetation.
Young are born at any time of the year and spend the first few months of life clinging tightly to the tummy or back of their mother as she forages and moves around in the trees.
Unfortunately, as humans move into and take over suitable vervet habitats, the monkeys are forced into urban and farming areas and have closer contact with humans. They can become a pest as they raid dustbins and homes for food, and enter croplands to forage on ripening crops. It is not wise to feed the monkeys in the St Francis area as this will only encourage these destructive aspects of their behaviour.
Order: ARTIODACTYLA (Even-toed Ungulates)
Bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus)
Bushpigs are commonly associated with dense vegetation types, including forests, thickets and riverine underbrush where food, shelter and water are readily available. In the St Francis area, they have been seen in the thicker bush of the St Francis reserves and probably occur in riverine habitats here as well. They adapt easily to transformed landscapes, such as agricultural areas, and may become a problem species in certain croplands.
(Photo credits: FOSTER camera trap)
They are large and powerful animals and can be aggressive at times. The average weight of a male is around 60 kg, while a female weighs slightly less than this. They should certainly be given a wide berth if encountered in their forest or thicket homes, especially at night. Although they are considered to be mostly nocturnal, they will also forage and move around in the daytime.
These members of the pig family are omnivores and feed on grass rhizomes, tubers, bulbs, earthworms and insect larvae. They grub around in the soil with the hard, upper edge of the snout, and their rooting can damage gardens in this way. Bushpigs have an excellent sense of smell which enables them to locate fruit (both wild and cultivated), seeds and carrion from some distance, all of which is eagerly devoured.
Bushpigs are gregarious, living in small groups and defending a territory of several square kilometres. The members of the group include a dominant sow and boar, other sows, juveniles and piglets. The boar chases off other males and defends the feeding grounds. When juveniles reach six months of age, they are vigorously chased away from the group by their parents.
These animals are important seed dispersers in forest ecosystems and this helps to maintain plant diversity in many of South Africa’s coastal forests and thickets. The ecosystem service they provide in this regard cannot be over-emphasised. Their populations are often persecuted or hunted in agricultural areas and they have less and less suitable habitat in which to live, thanks to the relentless expansion of human activities. We are indeed lucky to have bushpigs resident in the St Francis area.
Litters of three to four young are born during the summer months in large, grassy nests in secluded areas. The young are rufous brown in colour with conspicuous yellow or buffy blotches and stripes on their sides.
Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)
(Photo credit: Gregg Darling, St Francis Airpark)
Small groups of this beautiful, medium-sized antelope are commonly seen in the St Francis area. Adult males stand about 80 cm at the shoulder and weigh an average of 40 kg, while females are smaller. Males and females also have different coloration; while the coats of males are a dark brown colour, the females are light tan. Both sexes have an assortment of white stripes and splotches on their coats and legs, helping them to blend in to the dappled shade of their favourite habitat.
Bushbuck are closely related to kudu, eland and nyala. All these antelope species have characteristic twisted horns, although a bushbuck’s are nowhere near as long as those of a kudu. Only the male bushbuck have horns, and these spiral gently up to a maximum length of around 45 cm.
Bushbuck are shy antelope that prefer riverine vegetation or places with thickets where they can be inconspicuous among the bushes, shrubs and trees. They usually lie up in dense bush during the day and emerge to feed and move around at night. However, they are often seen during daytime if the skies are overcast and the weather is cool.
Being browsers, these antelope forage mainly on leaves, but will take green grass, twigs with new buds, flowers and fruit at certain times of year. They become habituated to the presence of humans and will often enter gardens and nibble on the roses, if they can. A single offspring is born at any time of the year and is hidden in the dense undergrowth until it is strong enough to accompany its mother.
Mature male bushbuck with striking white markings on throat, chest and legs. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Adult female bushbuck recorded by a camera trap in a St Francis reserve. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis)
These small antelope have reddish coats that make them easy to identify in the St Francis area. The red hairs are interspersed with white ones, which results in a grizzled or streaky appearance to the coat. They stand just over 50 cm at the shoulder and weigh around 10 kg. The males have horns that stand straight up from the head and measure around 10 cm in adults.
(Photo credit: Peter Prokosch – https://www.grida.no/resources/3657)
These antelope are nocturnal and tend to be solitary. They are active around sunset, during the night, and at sunrise, and will lie up in the thick bush during the daytime. They are considered to be browsers mostly, and are selective about the leaves they choose to eat. But they will include grass and fruits as well, and appear to be quite adaptable in terms of diet.
Grysbok are endemic to our country and occur in coastal regions in the very southern parts of South Africa, associated with the vegetation of the Cape Floristic Kingdom (fynbos). In the St Francis area, they are almost at the far eastern edge of their distribution. They prefer habitats with thick scrub, fynbos or bush but can be found in urban edges, close to human activities, as long as there is suitable habitat for them.
A single young is born at any time of year but most commonly between September and December.
Grysbok in the St Francis reserves. They are recorded during the daytime and at night by the camera traps. (Photo credit: FOSTER)
Common Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia)
Duikers are named for their habit of diving off into cover in a series of plunging jumps. They do this when they are disturbed or wish to escape a threat. Otherwise, they are quiet, shy antelope that are mostly active at night and therefore seldom seen. Males have an average height of 50 cm at the shoulder, and weigh around 18 kg; females are slightly larger than this.
They have a wide distribution in sub-Saharan Africa but never inhabit forests or deserts. In the St Francis area they are associated with bush or habitats with long grass, and may live quite peacefully on the fringes of agricultural lands, where natural vegetation remains undisturbed. They are active from the late afternoon into the darkness of night, as well as in the early mornings. They will lie up in areas of dense, long grass or bush when they are not foraging.
Although this species is also known as the Grey Duiker, it is not always grey. The coat can sometimes be reddish but the short, straight horns and the black stripe between the forehead and nose are diagnostic. Only the males have horns. Both sexes have very obvious glands below and in front of their eyes. These preorbital glands secrete a tarry substance which is rubbed onto vegetation as a way of marking the antelope’s territory.
Common duikers are browsers and will eat the leaves, twigs, flowers, fruits and seeds of a variety of shrubs and trees. They will also dig up succulent roots and nibble on the bark of trees. They have even been known to eat young birds, lizards, caterpillars and insect larvae. These antelope hardly ever drink and are independent of water.
A single young is born in any month of the year. After giving birth, the mother leaves the young in a dense patch of vegetation where it lies motionless with its ears pressed back against its body. If any danger threatens, the young “freezes” in this way and uses camouflage to hide its presence. Soon after birth, however, the young is able to walk around and even run.
(Photo credit: JonRichfield – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sylvicapra_grimmia_Grey_Duiker_mature_male_IMG_0435s.jpg
(Photo credit: Farid AMADOU BAHLEMAN en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_duiker#/media/File:Céphalophe_de_grimm,_crop.jpg)
Blue Duiker (Philantomba monticola)
This is the smallest of the Southern African antelope, and it is a forest specialist. It is found only in the thickest coastal forests, where its tiny size enables it to follow paths through the dense understory. Adults weigh between 3 and 4 kg and measure around 30 cm at the shoulder, hardly higher than a domestic cat.
(Photo credit: Bernard Dupont – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue_Duiker_(Philantomba_monticola)_(31587918777).jpg)
(Photo credit: Jean – .wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_duiker#/media/File:Blue_Duiker_2.jpg)
The coat is a blue-grey colour in many parts of the antelope’s distribution range, but around the St Francis area individuals have darker brown bodies and reddish legs. There are noticeable grooves on the face below the eyes – this is where preorbital glands exude an opaque liquid that is rubbed on vegetation to mark an individual’s territory. Adults of both sexes carry tiny, vertical horns that measure no more than 5 cm and are often hidden in the tufts of longer hair on top of the head.
These tiny antelope lie up in dense bush during the day and emerge at dusk to forage on leaves, tender shoots, fruits and flowers. They are shy and timid, and will dive for cover in the bush at the first sign of danger. As a result, they are not often seen. However, they do enter cautiously into open areas at forest fringes during the early morning and at dusk, and one can sometimes see them then. There is a resident population in the forested areas around Jeffreys Bay and individuals can be seen regularly. Some residents provide food and water for these delicate antelope, which have become habituated to humans as a result.
Blue duikers pair for life and defend a territory within the coastal bush. A single offspring is born at any time of year, and is hidden in the dense undergrowth for the first few weeks of life. It will remain in the territory, with its parents, until it is mature and ready to look for a territory of its own.
Sadly, blue duikers are often trapped for food. Their habit of sticking to well-worn paths when moving through the bush makes them easy to snare. They are killed and eaten or sold as bush meat throughout their range. This makes their populations vulnerable to overexploitation and means that the remaining individuals in the St Francis area are extremely precious.
References and Resources
Lubke, R. A., Gess, F. W., & Bruton, M. N. (1988). A field guide to the Eastern Cape coast. Wildlife Society of Southern Africa. NMB Printers.
Smithers, R. H. N. (1986). Land mammals of Southern Africa: A field guide. Macmillan South Africa (Pty) Ltd.
Smithers, R. H. N. (1983). The mammals of the Southern African subregion. University of Pretoria. CPT Book Printers.
Walker, C. (1981). Signs of the wild. Everton Book Press.