One of the smallest antelope occurring in South Africa, the Suni weighs only around 5kg and stands a measly 35cm tall at the shoulder. Only the ram carries the short horns, while the ewes are slightly more heavily built.
Sunis are very particular about their habitat, preferring dense, dry thickets in deciduous woodland and riverine forests, often on sandy soils. They are browsers, feeding selectively on nutrient-rich leaves, fruit, shoots, mushrooms and herbs.
Usually encountered singly and more infrequently in pairs or small groups, Sunis are most active from dusk to dawn and have favoured spots where they rest during the heat of the day. Rams mark their territories with their prominent pre-orbital scent glands and dung middens, and both sexes are inclined to use well-trodden paths through their home range, making them especially prone to predation and poaching.
Suni ewes give birth to single lambs, usually during the rainy season. The lambs are hidden for the first few weeks of life, with the ewe returning to them regularly through the day to nurse. The lambs are weaned when they’re 2-3 months old and sexually mature by the time they’re a year old. Their natural lifespan is estimated at 9 years maximum and usually much shorter.
While overall the IUCN lists the Suni as being of “least concern” with an estimated population of 365,000 individuals distributed along Africa’s eastern coast and adjacent interior from Kenya to South Africa, these diminutive antelope are considered to be endangered in South Africa, where they are found only in northern Kwazulu-Natal and the Pafuri and Punda Maria areas of the Kruger National Park (their numbers in Kruger were supplemented by several introductions from KZN, but confirmed sightings remain few and far between). The total population in Kwazulu-Natal is estimated at around 1,500, with the biggest single populations being the estimated 750 protected in the Tembe Elephant Park and around 360 in the uMkhuze Game Reserve. Poaching and loss of habitat are considered the major reasons for their decline in South Africa. Interestingly, burgeoning populations of elephant, nyala and large predators in conservation areas have a severely negative effect on the Suni, as they suffer heavily from predation and the larger herbivores denude the lower shrub layer so crucial to the Suni’s survival. Thankfully Sunis breed well in captivity and this offers hope for their reintroduction into areas from which they’ve disappeared locally.