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26 Feb, 2024
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The Suni – Article by Gareth Jones

The Suni- Special & Secretive

A while ago while driving on the tar road towards the main gate in the late afternoon, I saw a tiny antelope eating next to the road. It was a tiny Suni! They are only found in the Langata forested section. Mostly seen if driving very slowly in the early morning or late afternoon, when they feed on green shoots and leaves. They are very shy and secretive and it is rare to get close to them, I mostly watch them through binoculars.

The Suni suddenly ran across the road and went into a thick clump of bushes. I looked and could scarcely believe my eyes, a tiny, tiny, minute little lamb was trying to stand and suckle on its mother. WOW! what a super Suni sighting, a mega tick on my all-time sightings in the park.

The lamb could not have been more than an hour or two old, and the mother was trying to force it to walk, as she slowly moved away every time, the lamb tried to stand and walk on its wobbly newborn legs. There is always something very precious and special about witnessing the start of a new life, especially when it is rarely seen.

Suni are often mistaken for dik-dik. The tiny antelope seen in the forest area are Suni. The Suni (Neotragus moschatus) is a small antelope. It occurs in dense underbrush from central Kenya to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Suni are only around 30–43 cm high at the shoulder and weigh 4.5–5.4 kg. They are usually reddish-brown, darker on their back than their sides and legs. The belly, chin, throat and insides of legs are white. The nostrils are prominent red, and there are black rings around the eyes and above the hooves. Males have horns 8–13 cm long, that are ridged most of their length and curve backwards close to their heads. Females do not have horns. Suni can make weak barking and whistling sounds.

Suni feed on leaves, fungi, fruits and flowers, and need almost no free water. They are shy, most active at night, and sleep during the day in a shady, sheltered area. They are social but males defend a territory of about three hectares. They scent-mark the boundaries with secretions from their preorbital glands. There may be an individual or  communal dung pile on the periphery of the territory. A male usually takes one mate, but other females may share his territory. A single calf is born weighing about two pounds, after a gestation of 183 days.

Lions, leopards,  birds of prey,  snakes and other meat-eaters prey on Suni. Even Olive baboons have been seen eating Suni on rare occasions. For protection, they are well camouflaged in dry grass and keep very still. When a predator is almost on top of them, they spring out and bound away into the underbrush.

Over many years I have rarely seen Kirks dik-dik actually inside the park in the Athi basin, and also near Masai gate in the Silole Sanctuary.

Next time you drive through the Langata forest section, drive slowly and be on the lookout for the special secretive Suni antelope.


Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer