Yellow-backed duiker (Cephalophus silvicultor)

Synonyms: Cephalophus sylvicultor
French: Céphalophe À Dos Jaune, Céphalophe Géant
Spanish: Duiquero De Lomo Amarillo
GenusCephalophus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 125 - 190 cm (2)
Tail length: 11 - 20 cm (2)
Weight45 - 80 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The yellow-backed duiker is the largest of all duikers; a group of animals which get their name from the Afrikaans word for ‘diver’, referring to their habit of diving into dense vegetation for cover. As well as its larger size, the yellow-backed duiker is distinct from other duikers due to the patch of yellow hairs on its rump, which is conspicuous against the rest of its blackish-brown coat (4) (5). The body of the yellow-backed duiker is higher at the rump than at the shoulders (4), and the head is long and wedge-shaped (2). Both sexes bear short, cylindrical horns which are ribbed at the base, and a crest of longer, dull chestnut hairs sits between the horns (4) (5). Unlike most other duiker species, the yellow-backed duiker does not constantly wag or ‘flag’ its tail (6).

The yellow-backed duiker has a wide distribution over west and central Africa, from Senegal to Zambia, but is uncommon and localised within this vast area (5) (7).

Inhabits virtually all tropical forest types, including lowland and montane forests, forest-savanna mosaics and riverine forests, as well as more open habitats such as clearings, savanna, open savanna woodlands and thicket, and even secondary forest and plantations (1) (4) (5) (7).

Duikers have a secretive nature, and this, combined with its dense, fairly inaccessible habitat, means that little is known about the behaviour of the yellow-backed duiker (4) (5).  It is thought to be mainly solitary, or living in monogamous pairs, in spaced out territories (2) (4), and may be active by both day and night (5) (8). If the yellow-backed duiker comes across any danger, such as a predator, it will freeze immediately and the hairs in the yellow patch may erect (4) (5); possibly as a clear, visual, alarm signal to other yellow-backed duikers, or as a ‘predator invitation signal’ which causes a predator to strike too early, giving the duiker a chance to escape (4) (6) (8).

The yellow-backed duiker feeds on a wide range of vegetation, including fruits, leaves, shoots, seeds, bark and buds, and it may also occasionally eat carrion. In captivity a yellow-backed duiker was observed capturing, killing and eating a pigeon (4), and the species has also been recorded eating lizards and even tortoises (5). Yellow-backed duikers are believed to give birth to one calf a year after a gestation period of 151 days. The newborn lies up in vegetation for a week or so, but begins eating solid food very quickly (2), and is fully weaned by four to six weeks of age. The newborn is uniformly brownish-black in colour, with the horns and the characteristic yellow rump only developing after seven months or so (4) (5) (8). The yellow-backed duiker may live for more than 10 years in captivity (8). 

The destruction of forests and uncontrolled hunting for food has greatly impacted the yellow-backed duiker; this species is now extinct in Gambia and possibly Rwanda, and remaining populations are declining, except for those where there is effective protection against poaching or human populations are very low (7). If this trend continues, the yellow-backed duiker is likely to become threatened with extinction (7).

The yellow-backed duiker is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3). It is also likely to occur in a number of protected areas throughout its wide range, such as Outamba-Kilimi National Park, Sierra Leone (9). Whether these are sufficient measures to protect the yellow-backed duiker from becoming at risk of extinction is not clear; the destruction of central Africa’s forests and uncontrolled bushmeat hunting are complex problems that require a wide array of actions to save those species affected.

For further information on bushmeat hunting, its problems and solutions, see:

Authenticated (13/05/09) by Karl R. Kranz, Executive Vice President for Animal Programs and Chief Operating Officer, Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2008)
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Limited, London.
  3. CITES (January, 2008)
  4. Lumpkin, S. and Kranz, K.R. (1984) Cephalophus sylvicultor. Mammalian Species, 225: 1 - 7. Available at:
  5. Wilson, V.J. (2005) Duikers of Africa: Masters of the African Forest Floor. Zimbi Books, Pretoria, South Africa.
  6. Kranz, K.R. (2009) Pers. comm.
  7. East, R. (1999) African Antelope Database 1998. IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  8. Kranz, K.R. and Lumpkin, S. (1982) Notes on the yellow-backed duiker Cephalophus sylvicultor in captivity with comments on its natural history. International Zoo Yearbook, 22: 232-240.
  9. UNEP-WCMC: Outamba-Kilimi National Park (January, 2008)