The foothills of Kilimanjaro are home to some of the world’s most elusive creatures. The Abbott’s duiker, for example, is an unbelievably rare antelope that was photographed for the first time in 2003. Now, researchers have caught some incredible video footage of these shy guys roaming around in the wild, as well as some equally reclusive creatures that lurk in this corner of Tanzania.
A troop of ecologists from the University of Würzburg in Germany captured the videos using camera traps at 66 points around Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The traps ranged from the savannah in the lowlands to the forest regions at medium altitudes, and the bush landscape at higher altitudes.
Reporting in the Journal of Animal Ecology, a number of different Abbott’s duikers were actually spotted at 13 different sites across the forests of Kilimanjaro. This could suggest there are encouraging numbers of the species in the wild, however, it’s worth remembering that they are still considered endangered with fewer than 1,500 individuals thought left on the planet, according to the IUCN Red List.
"Unfortunately, we do not know much about the Abbott's duiker and most of the knowledge we have is derived from the knowledge we have of other duikers," study author Friederike Gebert, from the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the University, told IFLScience.
"They probably mostly eat plant matter, however, one of the first photographs of the Abbott's duiker shows a specimen with a frog in its mouth, so occasionally, they also capture live prey," Gebert said, adding "The Abbott's duiker is reported to be nocturnal, which may be the most likely reason why we know so little about this species."
While the Abbott’s duiker was perhaps the expedition's scene-stealer, they also managed to obtain footage of 22 other wild mammal species, including bush pigs, porcupines, lesser kudus, and yellow baboons. Some of the more rare species included a Zanzibar Sykes’s monkey and a particularly dashing serval cat with an all-black coat and sharply pointed ears. The rare African cats are usually yellow and black, so this one was likely melanistic, like a panther.
Along with documenting the current population numbers of mammals on Mount Kilimanjaro, the researchers also hoped to understand how populations of larger mammals in the area could be affected by climate change and human activities. Their findings showcase the incredible biodiversity of mammals living in this unique environment and highlight the urgency to protect the area from the ever-increasing risk of human disturbances, whether that's habitat destruction or overhunting.
"In the case of large mammals, biodiversity is particularly high in nature reserves, while it falls by 53 percent in unprotected areas – even though many of the unprotected areas still have natural vegetation," added study author Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter.
"Our study thus underscores the importance of protected areas for maintaining species diversity of large mammals in tropical mountain regions. To preserve the existing protected areas at Kilimanjaro and to designate further ones is a very desirable goal from the scientific point of view."