Dik-dik numbers in Taita hills pushed to near extinction

A Dik-dik antelope feeding on a sprouting plant at the Tsavo East national Park, Dik-dik numbers have decreased steadily at the Taita Hills sanctuary which borders the park PHOTO COURTESY

Dik-dik antelope numbers at the 28,000 acre Taita hills sanctuary have decreased steadily over the past years leaving conservationists worried that they could be pushed to extinction.

The Dik-dik is any antelope that weighs 3-6 kilograms that are classified in the genus of Mardoqua.

There are four species of the Dik-dik antelope; Gunthers Dik-dik( Madoqua guentheri) which is endemic to parts of Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya,the Kirks Dik-dik which is endemic to Namibia and parts of Southern Kenya, the Silver Dik-dik(Madoqua piacentinii) endemic to Ethiopia and parts of Somalia and the Salts dik dik(Madoqua saltiana) endemic to the Horn of Africa and South Sudan.

Though the Dik-dik which is one of the smallest types antelopes has been listed as least concern by the International Union of Conservation for Nature(IUCN), the situation is a sharp contrast at the Taita hills sanctuary.

According to Donart Mwakio the assistant warden at the Taita Hills sanctuary habitat loss and poaching are major factors that have contributed to the population decrease.

“ We used to have wooded bushland and thicket but currently the ecosystem is turning into a grassland.” Says Mwakio.

Dik-dik antelopes are normally found in areas with some bushland.

The current vegetation change and degradation of rivers like the Voi River which originates from the sanctuary has left the small mammals vulnerable to predators like Jackals.

Wild predators are not the only threat to the Dik-dik, hunting has also been a big problem in the area.

“ Dik-diks play a whistle like sound to alert others whenever they feel threatened and hunters whistle to smoke them out from their hiding places” Mwakio adds.

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According to a report released by conservation organization Wildlife Direct’s court survey project ‘Eyes in the courtroom’ in October 2018, of the 428 arrests directly involving wildlife species that were made in the years of 2016 and 2017 in Kenya, 59 were related to possession of Dik-dik meat and body parts.

Of the 1958 overall arrests made in the same period, 776 were in Taita Taveta County where the sanctuary is located.

However, the current population of  Dik-diks at the sanctuary is not known, a phenomenon  Mwakio attributes to the proximity of the sanctuary to Tsavo East and the Tsavo West national parks.