Photo of Extremely Elusive Antelope Is a First

The Walter’s duiker had never before been photographed alive in the wild.

Walter's duikers photographed on camera traps.
Walter's duikers photographed by camera trap.

Assou et al., 2021

When researchers sifted through 9,007 days of camera-trap footage from 80 locations in Fazao‐Malfakassa National Park in Togo, West Africa, they found an elusive animal they weren't even looking for.

They spotted the Walter’s duiker, a small African antelope that is one of the world’s most evasive mammals.

Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford, today confirmed that they have captured the first images of Walter’s duiker (Philantomba walteri) alive in the wild.

“This is a small, secretive prey species that doubtless spends its life hiding from predators,” David Macdonald, WildCRU’s director tells Treehugger. “It also lives in a remote and largely unexplored part of the world.”

The Walter’s duiker was first described in 2010 and was named for researcher Walter N. Verheyen, in honor of his work with African mammals.

The antelope was first encountered at a bushmeat market which is where wild animals are commercially hunted and sold for food. Researchers point out that bushmeat hunting differs in scale from subsistence hunting, which is when animals are killed locally to feed families and villages. The bushmeat trade is acknowledged as a major reason for biodiversity loss and a risk to animal welfare and public health.

Because no live animals have been recorded, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the Walter’s duiker is listed as “data deficient.” The animal’s habitat is assumed to be various types of scrub in the Dahomey Gap, an area of Guinea savanna in West Africa.

“At a time when biodiversity is declining, it is exciting to discover the presence of a species that is almost never seen, and whose distribution and whereabouts were largely unknown,” Macdonald says.

A Surprise on Camera

For the study, the research team from Togo, Britain, and Germany placed 100 camera traps in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, the largest protected area in the country. 

The Walter’s duikers were one of 32 mammal species identified on camera during the research study. They also discovered aardvarks and a type of mongoose called a cusimanse, neither of which have previously been recorded in Togo. Combined with other animals reported in published studies, now 57 species have been identified in the area.

The team found that the park seems to be the only protected spot in Togo where the African savanna elephant and the African forest elephant exist together. The park is also home to many illegal activities including hunting, timber exploitation, cattle grazing, and agricultural encroachment.

The results and photo were published in the African Journal of Ecology.

“This project is part of a coordinated series of huge camera-trapping projects in different parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. We are striving to document the distributions of rare species around the world,” Macdonald says. “We had no idea that we would stumble across this almost unknown little antelope so it was a surprise.” 

In conjunction with the study’s release, WildCRU has launched Unseen Empire, a free game based on the group’s camera-trapping survey searching for clouded leopards across Southeast Asia. 

View Article Sources
  1. Assou, Délagnon, et al. "Camera Trap Survey of Mammals in the Fazao‐Malfakassa National Park, Togo, West Africa." African Journal of Ecology, 2021, doi:10.1111/aje.12856

  2. "First Photo in the Wild: one of the world’s most secretive mammals photographed in WildCRU’s Togo survey." Wildcru, 2021.

  3. "Duiker." ESF.

  4. Colyn, M., et al. “Discovery of a new duiker species (Bovidae: Cephalophinae) from the Dahomey Gap, West Africa.” Zootaxa, 2010, pp. 1-30, doi:10.11646/ZOOTAXA.2637.1.1

  5. "Walter's Duiker." IUCN Red List, 2016, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2016-1.rlts.t88418111a88418148.en