21 July 2016 Volume :4 Issue :32

UKZN Blue Duiker Research Featured on 50|50

UKZN Blue Duiker Research Featured on 50|50
Ms Yvette Ehlers-Smith setting up a camera, (right) A Blue Duiker on film.

PhD candidate in the School of Life Sciences Ms Yvette Ehlers-Smith was interviewed in a 50|50 SABC-TV programme about her research on the blue duiker, or iPhiti, which she undertakes in the Indian Ocean coastal belt forests of southern KwaZulu-Natal.

Ehlers-Smith explained that research of blue duiker was one aspect of a larger research project focused on the impacts of changing land use on biodiversity, particularly of mammals.

The species is wide-spread throughout central and eastern Africa, but within the most extreme southern limit of its distribution, their numbers are thought to be declining.

‘The last two South African Red List assessments classified them as vulnerable to extinction,’ said Ehlers-Smith, describing it as worrying that the animals are not found in large numbers in nature reserves, instead co-existing with humans in coastal villages.

Ehlers-Smith gave an overview of the fragile creature’s habitat, detailing how it marks its territories, and explained that its name arises from the blueish sheen of its fur.

She highlighted major threats duikers face living in close quarters with humans.

‘It is important to raise awareness and change mind-sets,’ said Ehlers-Smith. ‘A few changes around your house might make a world of difference to blue duikers.’

The duikers’ diet of fallen fruit, bark, flowers, ants and foliage is provided by their forest habitat. The inquisitive yet cautious animal is threatened by habitat loss, and is preyed on by predators such as raptors as well as poachers, who hunt the antelope using snares and dogs. Snare patrols are regularly conducted to combat this.

Mr Craig Hosken of Crag’s View Wild Care Centre said he had found almost 100 blue duiker in snares to date. The duiker are also often trapped in fencing around holiday homes in the area, and fall prey to holiday-makers’ dogs.

The stripping of the forest floor by humans also has dire consequences for the duiker as the animals require the vegetative environment for cover, feeding and reproduction. This is a problem for the Leisure Bay Conservancy, as stripping of vegetation is difficult to police. Dense vegetation is viewed as a security risk, but is what the duiker needs to hide from predators. Ehlers-Smith says research shows that duikers prefer denser areas compared to more open patches.

Small, locally-operated conservancies springing up on the South Coast have become essential for the duikers’ survival. Development is a huge risk to the animals, according to Libby Goodall of the Leisure Bay Conservancy, who says many developers have little regard for the environment.

The blue duiker and other forest dwelling species depend on human action in preserving their dwindling coastal forest habitats.

Christine Cuénod

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