Kilimanjaro’s rainforest keeps the rare Abbott’s duiker well-hidden
Photo: Tom Rohrer
Over the years, Kilimanjaro, once a lonely mountain rising above the plains, has transformed into a well-known, and extremely popular, tourist destination. Current estimates put over 50,000 climbers on the mountain every year, and those numbers are only slated to continue rising.
But despite Kilimanjaro’s increasing exposure to the outside world, there are some mysteries the mountain still hides, mysteries like the elusive Abbott’s duiker.
Duikers as a group are small, stocky antelopes with thick legs. Their back legs are longer than their front, which gives their bodies a downward-sloping appearance. The common duiker, or bush duiker, is small (it usually grows to around 20 inches in height), and widespread throughout the entire African continent. The common duiker is a…well, common sight on Kilimanjaro, generally spotted in the upper reaches of the rainforest or the lower moorland.
The Abbott’s duiker is a far less common sight, on Kilimanjaro or anywhere else. “Discovered” on Kili in 1890 by William Louis Abbott—an explorer and naturalist—the animal has only been seen a handful of times between then and now. It’s so rare, in fact, that photos of the animal weren’t captured until 2003, and to this day, very little is known about its habits.
We do know a few things about this ghost of Kilimanjaro, though (thanks in large part to nocturnal camera-traps set up on the mountain). It’s extremely sturdy, growing to just over two feet tall, but weighing in around 120 pounds. Dark brown with a pale, gray face and a prominent tuft of reddish hair, it’s well suited to disappearing into the shadows between the trees in Kili’s misty rainforest.
Unlike the common duiker, Abbott’s duikers are active almost exclusively at night. It’s thought they eat mostly leaves and fruit, but one has been spotted with a frog in its mouth (common duikers sometimes capture and eat animals as large as guinea fowl, so it’s not unlikely that Abbott’s duikers are similarly omnivorous).
Another ghostly quality of the Abbott’s duiker is its ability to make itself disappear in an instant. Even more easily startled than other duiker species, it will run in the opposite direction the moment it perceives a threat (something that helps explain how rarely it’s seen by humans).
Only found on a few mountains in Tanzania, this species may soon become just a fading memory; it’s estimated that as few as 1,500 Abbott’s duikers remain in the wild, clustered in groups of just a few hundred to an entire mountain.
So if you spot a dark figure with a pale grey head peering at you through the trunks of the trees, don’t be afraid; it’s not a specter, it’s just a duiker…
…well, we think…