New Antelope Discovered in Plain Sight

This week's Animal Oddity is about the discovery of a new species that has been living in plain sight.

There are several odd things about this discovery and the creature now known as Walter's duiker (Philantomba walteri).

The first is that "discovery" doesn't mean that this small African antelope was unknown before this announcement. There are actually dozens of specimens in museums and the animal has been recorded in the wild for decades. In fact, you can often find it in local food markets, which is the second odd thing: the discovery was made by using duiker meat purchased from both local hunters and meat merchants at local markets -- not the place you'd expect to discover a new species. Finally, the fact that it's a new antelope is also odd, given that antelope taxonomy was thought to be well known and as complete as almost any other group of animals.

So what's going on? Turns out that this discovery is really a case of mistaken identity. You see, the animal now known as Walter's duiker was previously thought to be an altogether different duiker species called Maxwell's duiker (Philantomba maxwelli) and was only discovered through new analysis of its DNA. Maxwell's and Walter's duikers look very similar and overlap habitat, so it was always assumed that they were the same species.

However, when scientists looked at the animals' DNA and compared the skull morphology of animals collected at local meat markets and museum specimens, they realized that they were looking at something new to science.

Populations of duikers are already listed as threatened or endangered, so the discovery of this new species hiding in plain sight will have important implications for conservation efforts to protect both of these antelope species. Habitat destruction and the indiscriminate hunting of wild animals for food known as the bushmeat trade are both potentially serious threats.

Get the latest odd animal news, stories, videos and behaviors on my Animal Planet blog, Animal Oddities.

And just for fun, here's a video of a cute baby red duiker (Cephalophus natalensis) getting its shots at the Oregon Zoo.