Granted, it would be a very specific forest in west Africa, but with both leopards and mosquitoes stacked against you, you’d do well to have this stripy little antelope on side. And before you sneer, it knows a thing or two about survival.

Fruit loot

Yes, it’s only knee-height, but in a tall, mature forest you can’t exactly jump for fruit either, even if the monkeys hadn’t already bagged it all. So what do you do?

Follow the zebra duiker, because it knows exactly which tree-top animals and birds have butter fingers, meaning your meal will likely still have bite marks in it, but will at least be relatively fresh and not trampled into a three day-old bug-riddled mash on the forest floor.

It’s why zebra duiker parents spend so much time teaching their calf the ways of the forest, because when you’re tiny and can’t climb, your food mostly depends on learning the habits of the even clumsier. Which of course requires brain power.

In fact, proportionately, duikers have the biggest brains out of all the cloven-hoofed mammals, or bovids. That may not sound like much, but they’re not the ones who got lost in a forest.

You’re probably wondering what happens when danger rears its ugly head, given the name “duiker” is Afrikaans for “diving buck” after the way it swiftly escapes into the bushes. But don’t worry. The zebra duiker wouldn’t leave you high and dry.

A deer friend

For instance, as above, family is pretty important, and once a pair is coupled up they tend to stay together. In the absence of a mate, it can also bond with other species, as was the case at Los Angeles Zoo in the 1970s.

The female tragically died just weeks from giving birth, and since the male then became too attached to his human keepers, a much older female red-flanked duiker was introduced as a companion. There were no obvious shenanigans between them – so don’t worry, it won’t whinge that you put it in the “friend zone” – but they frequently groomed one another and kept each other company. Once in a pair, it’s basically them against the world.

Duiker gangs

Both sexes have horns for a reason. It’s surprisingly territorial, and some have been seen with impressive scars. The aforementioned breeding male, for instance, even had his horns clipped to protect the female, so everyone’s invited to one of its brawls. If that wasn’t enough, the zebra duiker looks and behaves like a tiger too.

Okay, that sentence just arrived in a shower of asterisks, but the only other mammal known for the same stripe pattern is the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine.

Thylacine, photographed at the Hobart Zoo. National Archives of Australia.

What’s more, the zebra duiker has been seen eating meat – rodents, specifically, so you don’t have to worry about any rats stealing the fruit you managed to salvage. Its situation isn’t quite as dire as the tiger’s – yet – but it’s easily disturbed, so you’d soon know if there were any other humans around to rescue you.

In fact that’s where its bush-diving can come in handy, leaving you alone to brag to everyone about how you survived in the jungle unaided.

You’re a true friend, zebra duiker!


Latin: Cephalophus zebra

What? Dinky striped African forest antelope.

Where? Western Africa, namely older, mature forests and woodland in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Côte d’Ivoire.

How big? 85-90 centimetres / 2.7-2.9 feet long, and 40-50 centimetres / 1.3-1.6 feet at the shoulder.

Endangered? Vulnerable due to deforestation and hunting pressures.

Probable motto: I have stripes, live in the jungle and sometimes eat meat. Wouldn’t “tiger duiker” be better?

They look adorable. Do they need my help at all?

Yes, mainly due to being delicious, especially in a pinch, and having its preferred home, mature forests, destroyed by logging. It’s also very shy, so it can’t exactly hang around and get used to its new human neighbours.

The African Wildlife Foundation aims to help by developing conservation tourism and “wildlife corridors”, where duikers and other species can totter about undisturbed.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

Castelló, José R. 2016. “Bovids of the World“. Princeton University Press.

Estes, Richard. No date. “Duiker“.

IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group. 2016. “Cephalophus zebraThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2016: e.T4153A50184648.

Huffman, Brent. 2017. “Cephalophus zebra“.

Kendall, Gloria, and Rieches, Randy. 2000. “Antelope Husbandry Manual: Cephalophinae“. Zoological Society of San Diego.

Mijal, Michelle. No date. “Cephalophus zebra“. Animal Diversity Web.

Tetrapodzoology 2008. “Duiker, rhymes with biker“. ScienceBlogs.

Udell, Carol C. 1981. “Breeding the Zebra duiker at the Los Angeles Zoo“. International Zoo Yearbook 21(1):155-158.

Featured image credit: “Zebra duiker” by WillemSvdMerwe