Yellow-backed duiker (Cephalophus silvicultor)

Yellow-backed duiker, showing stripe
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Yellow-backed duiker fact file

Yellow-backed duiker description

GenusCephalophus (1)

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).

Cephalophus sylvicultor.
Céphalophe À Dos Jaune, Céphalophe Géant.
Duiquero De Lomo Amarillo.
Head-body length: 125 - 190 cm (2)
Tail length: 11 - 20 cm (2)
45 - 80 kg (2)

Yellow-backed duiker biology

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)


Yellow-backed duiker range

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).


Yellow-backed duiker habitat

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).


Yellow-backed duiker status

The yellow-backed duiker is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Yellow-backed duiker threats

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).


Yellow-backed duiker conservation

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.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

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.



The meat derived from wildlife of African forests, or ‘bush’.
The flesh of a dead animal.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2016)
  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)

Image credit

Yellow-backed duiker, showing stripe  
Yellow-backed duiker, showing stripe

© Carlton Ward Jr

Carlton Ward Jr


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