• Kirk’s dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii), a small antelope that lives in eastern and southwestern Africa, has a few special characteristics that help it survive in its arid habitat. Its unusual, elongated nose is one example. The long snout helps the antelope regulate its body temperature. When it’s hot, the dik-dik pants through its nose to cool off.

    It doesn’t have to drink much water, which is also helpful in its hot, dry habitat. It gets most of what it needs from dew and from the moisture in the vegetation it eats, primarily leaves from trees and shrubs as well as mixed bush-grass.

    Only about 55–75 centimeters (2 to 2.5 feet) long and about 3–6.5 kilograms (6 to 14 pounds), these shy and elusive antelopes have a unique strategy for escaping predators. When startled, they dart off in a zig-zag pattern, making a call through their nose that sounds like “zik-zik” or “dik-dik,” which is how they got their name. Once far enough away, they get low to the ground and freeze, usually choosing to hide rather than trying to outrun a predator.

    Despite such efforts, dik-diks are not always successful. They are an important food source for a large number of predators in their ecosystem, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, crocodiles, and pythons.

    Even with the expansion of agriculture and excessive hunting, Kirk’s dik-dik remains widespread and common in most areas of its range. Resilient, these antelopes are able to handle living in overgrazed areas and in the scrub. They may even be benefiting, at least in the short term, from changes to vegetation that come from human population growth.

    The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified them as a species of least concern, a status that could change, depending on the outcome of an ongoing scientific debate of whether the Kirk’s dik-dik is one species or actually four different ones. Some scientists believe that the dik-dik is a complex of species, which is a group of species so closely related that their differences are often unclear. However, experts think that due to the large population size, even if the animal is divided into distinct species, the status of least concern will likely remain.

    1. How do dik-diks cooperate with other species living in the grasslands?

      Dik-diks share their habitat with kudu and zebras. Kudus keep the shrubs within one meter of the ground, while zebras keep the grasses low. This helps the dik-dik’s food source grow abundantly at just the right level for them.

    2. How do dik-dik pairs establish their territory?

      Dik-diks form permanent, monogamous pairs, meaning one male stays with one female for a long period of time. Together they establish their territory, walking it daily while grazing. The repeated walks cut paths through the thick cover of grasses and brush. Both mark their territory with dung and urine, as well as secretions from scent glands beneath their eyes.

    3. Why do hunters not typically appreciate Kirk’s dik-dik?

      Fast and small, Kirk’s dik-dik will move quickly when they sense danger, alerting other animals that a threat is nearby!

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    agricultural Adjective

    having to do with farmers, farming, or their way of life.

    antelope Noun

    grazing mammal.

    arid Adjective

    dry.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    elongated Adjective

    lengthened or extended.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Noun

    environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

    predator Noun

    animal that hunts other animals for food.

    resilient Adjective

    able to recover.

    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.