A shrill whistle and some crashing noises in the undergrowth might sound a bit alarming when you are by yourself in the forest. No need to fear any predators, however – animal or human. This is the most likely extend of an encounter with the Blue Duiker, or Cephalophus monticola as he is called in his scientific passport. The shy little animal has just warned its mate that their main snaring, trapping, andshooting enemy is on the prowl. It also just lived up to its common name. Duiker is a Dutch word meaning ‘diver’ and the habit of these animals to hold their heads low and plunge themselves into dense cover at the first hint of alarm has given rise to the name. The ‘blue’ part has a bit more poetic license, they are mostly slate-grey in colour. Blue Duikers are common throughout the forests of Africa. In Zimbabwe they are restricted to the forests of the Eastern Highlands.
A Duiker’s main handicap is being very edible. In the Vumba, as in the rest of Africa, it’s us who try to have them on the menu most so the whistling and plunging are certainly not in vain. Leopards, pythons and crowned eagles are other Duiker-gourmets. Interestingly duikers themselves are not strictly vegetarian either. This is not a reason to start avoiding the next walk in the woods, no pack of ferocious blue duikers is going take revenge for all their family members who have gone on the braai, but they are known to occasionally snack on insects and other small invertebrates. Mostly they just eat fallen fruits and leaves off the forest floor. They often follow troops of Samango monkeys and other messy eaters who drop plenty of spoils to make a good meal for a duiker. Perhaps they will get to practice their diving skills that way, avoiding being hit by the wrong things coming down from the trees.
With a weight of 4-10 kg, a shoulder height of 30-40 cm and a body length of 55-72 cm, it is the smallest species of duiker.
Blue duikers are monogamous. Male and female mark their territory with feces and by rubbing their scent glands – located under the eyes – on trees and shrubs. A couple usually produces one kid a year and this can happen at any time during the year. Gestation lasts 4 months and weaning occurs after 5 months latest. After the baby is born, the mother looks after the young alone for one month, while the father protects the kid from predators.