|Auburn University Digital Library|
|Microlivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future|
source ref: b17mie.htm
|Part V : Deer and Antelope|
The least known and most obscure of all antelope are the delicate African creatures called dikdik, suni, royal antelope, pygmy antelope, and klipspringer. The smallest is a West African form of the royal antelope that stands a mere 25 cm high and weighs less than 2 kg. The four-horned antelope of South Asia is a similarly tough, tractable animal that is also the size of a small dog.
None of these has previously been seriously considered for use as livestock, but they are possibly amenable to rearing in captivity and they provide some of the finest game meat in the world. Given New Zealand's experience with various deer species (see page 288) and Africa's experience with large antelopes, basic research to test out the possibility of organized dwarf-antelope production could prove to be rewarding.
AREA OF POTENTIAL USE
The areas where these antelopes might be used are sub-Saharan Africa for the African species and South Asia for the four-horned antelope.
APPEARANCE AND SIZE
Of these animals, some, such as the pygmy antelopes, have a crouched appearance with an arched back and short neck; others have a more upright posture with a long neck and a raised head. In all species, the males are smaller than the females and bear tiny spikelike horns.
Collectively, these antelopes have native ranges covering huge areas of Africa and part of Asia.
Dikdik: Six species occur in two discontinuous distributions - one from Somalia and Ethiopia southward through Kenya and Tanzania, the other in Namibia and Angola.
Sunis: Eastern Africa, from Kenya to South Africa.
Royal antelope: West African forests.
Pygmy antelope: Central Africa from southeastern Nigeria to Zaire.
Klipspringer: Ethiopia to the Cape of Good Hope.
Four-horned antelope: India.
Many forms are protected by local laws, but none of the species is on the international endangered-species list.
HABITAT AND ENVIRONMENT
The animals occupy habitats from dense, moist forests to dry, rocky outcrops and even to deserts. Their ranges have almost certainly been affected by humans - sometimes for the better, since many prefer the secondary growth that invades disturbed areas, notably after overgrazing or slash-and-burn agriculture.
Although dikdik and klipspringer usually frequent dry areas with scattered brush, the other dwarf antelopes normally stay in dense vegetation. All seem to live in definite areas and do not migrate. For instance:
- Dikdik live near streambanks.
- Sunis inhabit dry country with thick bush, but they can also be found in reed scrub along rivers and in forests up to 3,000 m elevation.
- Klipspringers live on stony mountain slopes, rocky outcrops' or the sides of steep gorges at altitudes from sea level to 4,000 m.
- Four-horned antelopes live in undulating or hill country and shelter in tall grass and open jungle, a terrain more common to deer than to antelope.
Most of these antelope browse on shrubs. They are "concentrate selectors," taking easily digested vegetation such as buds, fruit, and succulent young leaves.
Also, most obtain much of their water requirement from dew and the vegetation they consume. Klipspringers, for example, are able to live for months without drinking. Sunis and four-horned antelope, on the other hand, drink regularly and seldom live far from water sources.
Little is known of the reproduction and general performance of these animals. Females become sexually mature at about 6 months in the smaller species and 10 months in the larger. Males become sexually mature at about 14 months. The young are born throughout the year, but births peak with the vegetation flush following the first rains. Where there are two rainy seasons a year, two birth peaks occur. Usually a single calf is born. Dikdik is the only one whose reproduction has been studied in detail. Its pregnancy lasts 172 days, one young is born at a time, and the birth weight is 600-800 g.
Their longevity is unknown but is probably in the range of 10-12 years.l
These tiny creatures have some of the habits of deer. They are shy and elusive and generally rely on concealment to escape detection. Their first response to a predator is to freeze, and then to flee like hares - dashing off in a series of erratic, zigzag leaps.
They live alone, in pairs, or in small family groups, but sometimes congregate in larger groups in thorn thickets. The species that have been studied most (dikdik and klipspringer) are strongly pair bonded. (A male, a female, and one or two young is typical, and a klipspringer rarely moves more than 5 m from its mate.) However, the royal and pygmy antelopes and the suni are more solitary in their behavior. Four-horned antelope are usually seen alone or in pairs.
These animals feed mostly in the early morning and late afternoon Some species deposit dung and urine on particular sites. And they repeatedly daub secretions from glands in front of the eyes onto plant stems, where a sticky mass accumulates. Glands near the hooves mark the ground along frequently traveled pathways. Males also mark females with the scent, thus reinforcing the bond.
The four-horned antelope has a whistling call, which helps keep the family group together. Males repeat it frequently in hot weather. Gestation is 8-8.5 months. If taken young, they reportedly tame easily.
Much more research needs to be done before attempts are made to convince anyone to domesticate these antelope. There are likely to be considerable difficulties. Guinea pigs, rabbits, and giant rats can successfully be kept in cages or small enclosures, but most antelope probably cannot. Larger enclosures will be needed.
The food habits and general behavior of these small animals must be studied closely. They are strictly monogamous, and it may be necessary to keep them in pairs. Reproduction, growth, and general performance must become understood under different environmental and nutritional conditions. Mixing species is another aspect to be examined - whether these antelope can be kept with other species in the same enclosure (typical of livestock farming in most poor nations) is not known.
To settle such questions, representative species of microantelope should be gathered for comparative assessment. Researchers should focus on the animals' social structure, on husbandry methods for maintaining them over generations, and on how best to breed them. If the findings are promising, then a campaign to domesticate these antelope could be mounted.
Throughout most of their ranges these animals are highly sought "bushmeats." The meat is lean and of extremely high quality. In Zaire's Ituri Forest, for example, pygmies net and kill large numbers of pygmy antelope, hanging the carcasses on sticks by the roadside for sale.
Because of their small size, these species might make good laboratory animals for ruminant studies. The dikdik, for instance, becomes a fully functioning ruminant at a body weight of about only 1.5 kg.2 However, their digestive physiology is quite different from that of cattle, sheep, and goats, which makes them atypical ruminants.
Given organized production, it is likely that dwarf-antelope pelts could become commercially important. North Africa exports the hides of medium-size antelopes to Europe for use in fine sueded leathers. Hides of the small species would almost certainly be in demand as well if a steady supply could be obtained as a by-product of meat production.
Microantelope provide some of the finest game meat. They are small and perhaps tractable. Most are already widely eaten and are being eliminated over broad areas of their range. Turning them into a sustainable, economic food source could provide motivation for their conservation.
These antelope can digest, and are adapted to, the indigenous forage over vast areas of Africa and South Asia. They are native to tropical habitats, where cattle and other livestock often grow poorly. They also appear to be resistant to trypanosomiasis.
Some African peoples (for example, the Kalahari Bushmen) have superstitions or social injunctions that prohibit the eating of some of these species.
Small antelope are probably not as efficient as larger ruminants in digesting fiber: the retention time in the rumen may be too short. On the other hand, quickly digestible cell walls of lush green plants can be used efficiently.3
The territorial behavior of most of these species may limit their rearing in large numbers under captive conditions.
RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION NEEDS
As noted, preliminary research on dwarf antelope husbandry is required. Specifically, studies should be conducted to assess:
- Growth rates, feed efficiency, and reproductive rate;
- Carcass quality;
- Economics and the likely cost of production per animal unit; and
- Studies of digestion.4
The few statistics available today on the use of wildlife as food are probably much below actual consumption. Most food consumption surveys record food obtained by hunting or trapping under the indiscriminate heading of "Bushmeat" and neglect to include the many small animals that are normally collected by children. In Africa, an amazing variety of wildlife is eaten, including all wild ungulates, primates, all cats, and many species of birds and reptiles.
Food and Agriculture Organization Ceres magazine
All the world's people must begin to overcome in themselves - and even more so in their children - senseless taboos about what is edible and what is not. Only then can we stop today's universal animal-protein wastage. How ironic it would be, in this scientific age, for mankind to starve largely because of a bunch of old wives' tales, irational beliefs, silly associations, and the lack of a sufficient spirit of culinary and gustatory adventure.
Calvin W. Schwabe Unmentionable Cuisine
Iguana is really good, a thousand times better than chicken.
Omero Asinto, waiter Pochote Bar and Restaurant
Barranca, Costa Rica