Blue duikers, with their otherworldly little Javanese faces and secretive ways, are among the smallest antelope in the world. Hardly larger than a scrub hare, they live a secretive life in forests and thickets. But there is a place where you’re practically assured of a sighting.

Did you know?

Duiker means ‘diver’ in Afrikaans, and refers to this small antelope's habit of leaping into undergrowth to escape.

One of Africa’s smallest antelope, not much taller than a child’s ruler, lives in South Africa’s southern forests.

The tiny blue duiker can be spotted at dawn and dusk, when it is most active, looking for fallen fruits, flowers, fresh leaves and even bird eggs.

Not much taller than a scrub hare, it weighs between 4kg and 4.6kg.

Its colouring, as the name suggests, ranges from a reddish-brown (when young) through blue-grey to dark slate blue.

But that won’t be what draws your attention – mostly the only sign of a blue duiker will be a steady white flicker from its tail, a movement that helps it keep contact with its mate and its young. You’ll recognise it by the slits under its eyes – what zoologists call sub-orbital glands.

It rubs these against areas to mark its territory. Mated duiker also rub them against each other. They mostly mate for life, and are very affectionate, licking each other’s faces throughout the day.

When courting, the male will prance in front of the female, then nibble her back and shoulders. They’ll often play together, and usually produce one or two young (referred to as a lamb) a year.

In South Africa, they are mostly found in the dense thickets and coastal forests of KwaZulu-Natal through the Eastern Cape to around Tsitsikamma. Keep a lookout for them at Phinda Private Game Reserve, Mkuze Game Reserve and forested Ndumo Game Reserve, all in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

But they’re also found further north – in limited areas of Zimbabwe and Mozambique and in greater numbers in central and west Africa.

The populations have been isolated for many years. Their vulnerability to snaring (they traverse the same paths every day) has meant their numbers are decreasing.

Fortunately, though, there are some breeding programmes that are helping to boost their numbers.

Apart from keeping a beady eye out for them in forest clearings at the bookends of the day, you’ll be able to see them at the Featherbed Nature Reserve near Knysna, and at an endangered species breeding area at Mlilwane Game Reserve in Swaziland.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Featherbed Nature Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)44 382 1693

Mlilwane Game Reserve
Big Game Parks, Swaziland
Tel: +268 2528 3943/4

How to get here

The easiest place to see blue duiker is at the Featherbed Nature Reserve in Knysna. To get to Knysna, take the N2 highway from Port Elizabeth. It’s about a four-hour drive. Or you can fly to George. From there, along the N2 highway, it takes about an hour. Once in Knysna, there is only one way of getting to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, and that is by boat across the beautiful estuary. There are a number of boats, including a spectacular paddle cruiser.

Around the area

Knysna is on the Garden Route. It is close to the Garden Route National Park, secret forests and ferns, has a lagoon and excellent restaurants. In the past, Knysna has been named first of the Top 100 Destinations in the World by TripAdvisor.

Tours to do

Why not take a township tour around Khayalethu and the Rastafarian Judah Square? Alternately you can visit the oyster beds by boat and taste the difference between wild and cultivated oysters.

Get around

You can opt for a 2.2km guided walk or a 4x4 ride.

What will it cost

If you’re staying for lunch, the 4-hour trip will cost approx R395. Excluding lunch, the trip will cost approx R275.

Length of stay

If you’re staying for lunch, you’ll leave at 10am and come back four hours later. If you opt for the meal-free trip, it will take three hours, and you will depart for the trip at 2.30pm.

What to pack

Bring comfortable walking shoes and your camera, as well as a hat and sunblock in the warmer months (October to March). In winter (June to August) it can be chilly on the boat, so bring a warm jacket.

Where to stay

Knysna, which is on the Garden Route, has plenty of accommodation. You could stay on a houseboat, at a backpacker's lodge or an upmarket game lodge.

What's happening

Come to Knysna for the Oyster Festival (as much about sport as seafood) in July, the Rastafarian Earth Festival (usually held shortly afterwards), and the Naturally Knysna Festival in October.