Rare antelope is photographed in the wild for the first time

Rare antelope is photographed in the wild for the first time
Rare antelope is photographed in the wild for the first time

Two Walter duikers captured by a camera trap in a Togolese nature park. Credit: Assou et al. 2021

A recent survey of camera traps in a Togolese nature reserve revealed the first images of a Walter duiker, a small species of African antelope, living in the wild. The images also captured airliners and a species of mongoose, none of which had previously been reported in Togo. The team’s findings were published this week in the African Journal of Ecology.

“Photo traps are a big differentiator when it comes to biodiversity field research,” said co-author Neil D’Cruze, a wildlife biologist at the University of Oxford, by email. “I spent weeks exploring tropical forests apparently devoid of any species of large mammal. However, when you turn on your laptop and insert the memory card of camera traps that have been there patiently throughout the trip – and see species that have been with you all the time – it’s like having a glimpse into a parallel world. ”

The use of camera traps allowed the research team to no longer depend on information from hunters, who bring carcasses of the rare animal to the market. Instead, to study the fauna in the region, they planted 100 camera traps around the Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, in central Togo, which covers an area just over 1,700 square kilometers (to give you an idea, the area of ​​the city of São Paulo is 1,500 km²). When the survey was completed, the team was able to identify 32 mammal species, bringing the total number of mammal species reported in the area to almost 60.

“For the past 200 years, this graceful antelope has shown a great talent for avoiding scientists, but it has proved tragically less adept at avoiding nets, traps and hunting dogs,” said co-author David Macdonald, a zoologist at the University of Oxford and director of the unit University’s WildCRU conservation efforts in a statement. “Tracing their whereabouts in the meat markets is almost analogous to tracing the habits of deer in the UK, mapping their occurrence in butchers.”

The small antelope joins several other species of antelopes native to the park. Recognized for the first time as a new species in 2010 after comparing specimen carcasses with other known duiker specimens, the newly photographed duiker is the first living cataloged by scientists. There is so little documented about them that they are not even on the endangered list; the International Union for Conservation of Nature notes its status as “data deficient”. Obviously, the WildCRU team is trying to change that.

The team also found an aardvark, the first sighted in the country. Image: Assou et al. 2021

“We hope that our exciting discovery – the first live image of the Walter duiker in nature – will increase the need for additional protection of our remaining forest and savanna,” said co-author Gabriel Segniagbeto, a taxonomist at the University of Lomé in Togo, in the same press release. He emphasized the recognition “of the importance of Togo’s protected area system, which acts as a vital stronghold for a rich diversity of wild mammals”.

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According to the researchers, the Fazao-Malfakassa National Park is the only protected area in the country where African savanna and forest elephants coexist. Savannah elephants are threatened with extinction and forest elephants are in critical danger, according to an IUCN report released last week.

This makes the local camera trap even more important, as field biologists try to map the reach and extent of biodiversity in the protected area.

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