That’s a good ram! Shoot him!” my PH, Poen van Zyl, urged. He took my rifle and placed it on his shoulder to use as a rest, as we didn’t have shooting sticks with us. Placing his fingers in his ears to protect them from the imminent muzzle blast of my .375 H&H, he waited for the shot. I was looking into a tangled mass of trees, scrub and leaves, and couldn’t see anything. Time was running out fast and I felt the panic creeping up.
I whispered to Poen: “I can’t see him!” There was no response. I tried again, this time a little louder. Still, there was no response from Poen. By this time, I was frustrated with my failure to spot the ram and I felt even more panicky. The main reason I was standing there in the middle of Mozambique in the sand forest of Coutada 11, after travelling for over 1 300 km, was looking at me – but I couldn’t see it! The ram would be gone in a few seconds unless I located it soon.
My quest for the Tiny Ten antelope of Southern Africa had taken me to several regions over the last few years. I had started ticking off species on the list, and in 2018 only three of them remained for me to complete the Ten: Damara dik-dik, red duiker and Livingstone’s suni.
My goal was to harvest at least one of them in 2018 and, after talking to my hunting partner, Clifford Williamson from Savuti Taxidermy, we decided that a suni should be the one. Clifford only needed a suni to complete his Tiny Ten, so it was a no-brainer. He contacted Mark Haldane from Zambezi Delta Safaris and set the ball rolling. We would be heading to the sand forest of Coutada 11 in Mozambique later that year.
Neotragus moschatus, or suni, was named after Dr David Livingstone, the famous African explorer. Suni are very shy, forest-dwelling animals and occur from central Kenya to northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. They prefer to keep to densely forested areas with lots of cover to escape predators. Weighing in at 10–12 pounds they are the second smallest member of the Tiny Ten, with only the blue duiker being smaller. Suni feed on leaves, fungi, fruits and flowers, and need almost no water as they get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat.
The general colour of suni is a rich reddish-brown, but the fur does tend to be lighter on their sides and legs. Their underparts and the insides of their legs are white. They have beautiful big eyes with black rings around them, and they mark their territories with secretions from the pre-orbital glands on the side of their faces. When alarmed, a suni can make weak barking and whistling sounds, and hearing this close by in the tranquility of the forest is beautiful.
There may be an individual or shared dung pile on the fringe of a territory. Only males have horns, 3–5 inches (8–13 cm) long. They are ridged for most of the horns’ length and curve backwards close to their heads. Suni are social animals but males will defend a territory and will usually take one mate. However, other females may share his territory. After a gestation period of about 180 days, a single lamb is born weighing about two pounds.
Hunting suni in the sand forest is an experience I will never forget and is one I really want to repeat. The forest is something out of this world. You have these big trees forming a canopy several meters high and blocking out the sun. Underneath them there are several thousand small trees fighting to get access to the sun’s life-giving rays from above. The ground, consisting of pure white sand, is littered with dead and dying leaves – almost like the beach sand you see at the coast.
Scenic view of the hunting area