An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Cephalophinae
            Genus: Cephalophus

Cephalophus silvicultor

      Yellow-backed duiker


Cephalophus silvicultor [Afzelius, 1815].  
Citation: Nova Acta Reg. Soc. Sci. Upsala, 7:265, pl. 8, fig. l.
Type locality: Sierra Leone and region of Pongas and Quia Rivers (Guinea)

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 115-145 cm / 3.8-4.8 ft.
Shoulder Height: 65-80 cm / 2.1-2.8 ft.
Tail Length: 11-20 cm / 4.4-8 in.
Weight: 45-80 kg / 100-175 lb.

The short, glossy coat is dark brown to black.  Vividly contrasting with this dark background is a distinctive white to orange wedge of erectile hair on the back.  Young are born dark brown, with spots on their sides and a reddish tinge on the underparts.  The centre of the back remains jet black until 5-9 months of age, at which point the yellow hairs start to grow.  The muzzle is light grey in colour, and the lips are white.  The eyes and ears are small.  The yellow-backed duiker is heavyset with slender legs.  Both sexes have faintly ridged, wedge-shaped horns which grow 8.5-21 cm / 3.4-8.4 inches long and curve down slightly at the tips.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 7 months
Young per Birth: 1, rarely 2
Weaning: By 5 months
Sexual Maturity: Females at 9-12 months, males at 12-18 months.
Life span: 10-12 years.

After birth, the newborn lies hidden for over a week, after which it begins to venture out and nibble vegetation.

Ecology and Behavior

Generally nocturnal, these duikers lie up singly during the day in "forms" - regularly used beds found under fallen tree trunks, in root forms at the bases of trees, and in dense tangles.  They have also been observed resting on top of termite mounds, suggesting a regular surveyance of the surroundings.  Broken horns in females suggest that they actively defend their territories, which they are thought to share with a single male in a semi-detached pair-relationship.  The yellow-backed duiker marks its territory with its maxillary glands.  Adults communicate by means of shrill bleats and resonant grunts.  When alarmed, the yellow-backed duiker erects its bright dorsal crest and whistles a shrill alert, then flees into the underbrush.

Family group: Solitary or in pairs.
Diet: Foliage, fruit, seeds, fungi, grasses.
Main Predators: Leopard, python, crocodile, civet.


Forests with heavy undergrowth in western central Africa.

Range Map (Redrawn from IEA, 1998)

Conservation Status

The yellow-backed duiker is classified as a low risk, near threatened species by the IUCN (1996).


Duiker ("DIKE-er") is Africaans for "diver", a reference to their habit of ducking into dense undergrowth when alarmed.  Kephale (Greek) the head; lophus (Greek) a crest, referring to the tuft on the head.  Silva (Latin) woods, forest; cultor (Latin)  farmer, inhabitant; hence silvicultor (Latin) one who lives in the woods.

Literature Cited

Alden, P. C., R. D. Estes, D. Schlitter, and B. McBride.  1995.  National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife.  New York: Chanticleer Press.

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology) 1998.  Cephalophus silvicultor.  In African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 and 2.  Bruxelles: European Commission Directorate. Available online at

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.  Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

Walther, F. R.  1990.  Duikers and Dwarf Antelopes.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  pp. 325-343.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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© Brent Huffman,
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