Duikers are small antelopes that inhabit forest or dense bushland. They are a good example of how an animal can be very successful in finding and filling a certain ecological niche. They are the most widespread of all the forest antelopes and are represented in East Africa by 13 of their 17 species.
A striking peculiarity of the duikers is that they all have the same distinctive body type, although the different species vary in size. Duikers have low-slung bodies on slender legs, wedge-shaped heads topped by a crest of long hair, and relatively large eyes. With their heads held close to the ground, duikers can move easily through the dense vegetation of forests and bushlands. They regularly run through these areas and when disturbed, plunge into thick cover to hide. This trait is the source of the name “duiker,” which in Dutch means “diver.”
Duikers are divided into two groups: forest duikers and bush duikers. The bush duiker is more slender, with larger ears, than the forest duiker. Environment and habitat can influence the overall body shape and coloration of animals: Thus, the duiker living in open habitat is longer-legged, less hunched-backed and lighter in color (tawny or gray) than the species that inhabits the dense, dark forests.
Duikers have interesting and varied feeding habits. The large mouth permits them to feed on sizable fruits, mushrooms and other bulky items. They eat berries and fruit that have fallen naturally, as well as those dropped by monkeys, but most of their diet consists of foliage from bushes and trees. On occasion duikers may eat insects, lizards, birds and rodents.
Duikers have lived as long as 12 years in captivity, when bred as food sources of cheap meat in West Africa. They are popular as pets, even though males tend to become dangerous as they mature. Among their natural enemies are the lion, leopard, cheetah, hunting dog, hyena, jackal, baboon, python, crocodile and eagle. Large owls, monitor lizards and genets prey on the young. Despite so many predators, the duikers have successfully managed to maintain their numbers.