New species of duiker found in Togo, Benin & Nigeria
October 2011. Scientists from The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Erik Verheyen, Gontran Sonet and Zoltán T. Nagy, have, with a team of international researchers, discovered a new species of antelope that is found in Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.
Very small duiker
It is a very small antelope, measuring no more than around 40 cm at the shoulder and weighing four to six kilograms. It belongs to the duiker subfamily of antelopes. The Afrikaans name, 'duiker', meaning 'diver', comes from the habit these timid animals have of diving into the vegetation at the slightest sign of danger.
The new species has been named Philantomba walteri, or 'Walter’s duiker' in homage to Erik Verheyen’s father, Professor Walter Verheyen (1932- 2005). As professor at Antwerp University, he was the first scientist to collect a specimen of this species.
Maxwell’s duiker relation
Until now only two species of antelope had been recognised within the genus Philantomba. Both are widely distributed in West and Central Africa where they are hunted extensively. Their horns are used in traditional medicine and their meat is much in demand at bushmeat markets. It was known that one of these species, namely Maxwell’s duiker (Philantomba maxwelli), showed a geographical variation between different populations. Morphological studies and DNA tests have now shown that some of these populations form a distinct species.
The scientists were able to demonstrate this on the basis of specimens bought from local hunters or found at markets. Use was also made of specimens from museum collections. For the morphological studies, detailed skull measurements were taken, while the genetic research used DNA samples obtained from muscle tissue. This was of course not possible using the skulls from the museum collections, and so DNA had to be extracted from the teeth of the animals.
Antelope taxonomy is considered to be well known, like that of all other large mammals. The discovery of this new species of antelope therefore comes as quite a surprise. A surprise which was all the greater since Walter's duiker was found in the Dahomey Gap, a region where the discovery of a new animal species was certainly not expected. This just goes to show, once again, just how many gaps still exist in our knowledge of the Earth’s biodiversity, and just how important taxonomical research can be.
Vulnerable or Endangered?
The discovery also has implications for nature conservation. The duiker populations in Togo and in Nigeria are classed as 'vulnerable', while those in Benin are 'endangered' species. Now that it has been demonstrated that these populations from a separate species that is distinct from the more widespread Maxwell’s duiker, the pressure is even greater for tougher protection measures to ensure the survival of Walter’s duiker.
Go the website of the Institute of Natural Sciences.
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