Unicorn in the Bush

When I first arrived in the Sabi Sands, I was told about a rare white duiker that was seen in the area from time to time.

It was partial to a particular spot on the banks of the Sand River – known to be rich in leopard and lion activity. Without much camouflage from predators to speak of, each time the white duiker was sighted, we figured that was the last time it would ever be seen.

Known by the locals as ‘Mhunti’, it became a personal obsession to find and photograph the animal for myself – before it became the area’s dominant male leopard snack.  

Most duikers are born grey – an adaptation that ensures they blend in with the shades of their environment to avoid predators.

But this particular duiker was bright white. Almost ghost like.

The phenomenon is known as leucism. Like albinism, the animal is born with a reduction in all skin pigment – and they grow up completely white.

Leucistic peafowl

Leucistic peafowl - wikimedia commons

Whatever the case may be, the effect is very unique and ghostly in the context of the bushveld they inhabit.

After a few months in the area, I became slightly obsessed with seeing this animal. I would often drive my guests through the area where the duiker had last been seen in the hope I’d catch a glimpse of the strange creature myself. I sometimes even lied by saying we were following leopard tracks so as not to bore the guests. I’d had conversations with my tracker Colin about the Mhuti, and how much I wanted to see it. So each time I drove through the area preparing my guests for the many leopards we were about to see, Colin would shake his head and scan the bush in search of the duiker.

One day I stopped the car and was looking at a martial eagle in a tree when Colin shouted from the back of the car, ‘Hey I’m can see Mhuti.’ All guests shot their heads round, thinking they were about to see a leopard, but were disappointed to hear that it was just a duiker.

I, on the other hand, was ecstatic. I pulled out my camera and proceeded to holler at Colin asking for the direction of Mhuti. He was in thick bush just beyond the bonnet of the car. Quietly and suddenly the most stunning animal walked into an opening.

Photo (c) Paul Steyn

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! Like some kind of mythical creature, it was snow white, very dainty and seemed to glow in the damp bush.

I’d finally seen my unicorn!

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Paul Steyn spends his days submerged in the world of digital story telling. When coming up for air, he prefers it to be somewhere in the middle of the wilderness. He is obsessed with finding new and interesting waays to distribute content to all those who love and connect with Africa.

  • Guest

    Glad to know that there are safari guides that lie to their guests and drive around looking for what they want to see rather than bother with the wants of those pesky, paying guests.

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