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One Good Thing: An unsolicited dik-dik pic

It’s not NSFW. It’s a Twitter account that tweets photos of tiny antelopes.

A picture of a small antelope with a black box and an exclamation point superimposed over its head.
A Günther’s dik-dik in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve.
Benji Jones; Adria Photography/Getty Images
Benji Jones is a senior environmental reporter at Vox, covering biodiversity loss and climate change. Before joining Vox, he was a senior energy reporter at Insider. Benji previously worked as a wildlife researcher.

Few experiences are more jarring than opening your phone to find an image of genitalia that you didn’t request — an unsolicited dick pic. Such an occurrence is diametrically opposite, I’d argue, to getting an unsolicited dik-dik pic.

Dik-diks are tiny antelopes that are no larger than an overfed house cat. These creatures are adorable because of their size, but also because they have enormous eyes and long eyelashes, small trunk-like snouts, and tufts of disheveled fur jutting out of their scalp.

I get unsolicited dik-dik pics twice a day because I follow the Twitter account Unsolicited Dik-Diks — and I urge you to do the same. Twice each day, the account posts a photo or video of these peculiar antelopes to its 115,000 followers. It’s got it all: dik-diks eating leaves, dik-diks with Alfalfa hair, dik-diks on a scale.

The images are little beams of light piercing through what is otherwise a feed of despair. They put me at ease, making me feel warm and comfortable, perhaps because these animals seem so innocent. Like I said, the opposite of a dick pic.

To satisfy my growing dik-dik fixation, I searched for scientific research on these animals and tried to hunt down the account owner. But as I’d learn, none of the four species of dik-dik is particularly well-studied. Perhaps that’s because, as one newspaper wrote in 1957, “dik-diks aren’t considered very important animals.”

Well, I beg to differ.

Dik-diks: What you need to know

“There’s nothing not to like about a dik-dik,” Adam Ford, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia, told me when I reached him by phone. Ford did his doctoral research on the antelopes, which are native to southern and eastern Africa, and is one of the few Western scientists who knows them well.

Unlike most other mammals, dik-diks are pretty strict monogamists — they mate for life and don’t seem to cheat. In fact, dik-diks are such good models of monogamy that some organizations have featured them in posters for HIV prevention, to inspire people to stick to one sexual partner. “Learn to live like a dik-dik,” read a poster sponsored by the US Agency for International Development that Ford saw stapled to a bulletin board in Kenya.

A 13-day-old Salt’s dik-dik is weighed for the first time at the Duisburg Zoo in Duisburg, Germany, on November 20, 2015.
Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

As far as we know, dik-diks aren’t monogamous because they love each other, at least in a human sense. It’s likely more that they’re highly territorial. Bucks try to prevent other males from invading their territories and breeding with their does, and it’s hard for them to guard and mate with more than one doe, according to research from the 1990s.

While dik-diks are tiny, they defend their territories ferociously. Using liquid that oozes from large glands under their eyes, they mark plants and draw an invisible boundary around their range with scent. Should another dik-dik attempt to enter, it could lead to what ecologists call an “air cushion” battle — a.k.a. the cutest fight ever. “They’re non-contact headbutting matches for dominance,” Ford said.

If you’re not yet charmed by dik-diks, let me introduce to you one last feature: their multipurpose snout. The antelopes use them the way elephants use their ears: to cool down in an arid landscape where temperatures often soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Dik-diks pump blood in and out of their noses, where the heat then dissipates, like a reverse radiator.

There’s more: When dik-diks sense danger, such as when a leopard or lion draws near, they whistle through their nose to warn others. That whistle — which some people say sounds like “zik-zik” — is likely how they got their name. (I can’t say I’m hearing it.)

Whether or not you find their features endearing, dik-diks are important animals in the African savanna. They’re such voracious grazers, they can actually help shape plant communities, Ford said, and they’re an abundant source of food for predators. In one 2015 study, led by Ford, researchers found that dik-diks likely helped fuel the recovery of endangered African wild dogs at a site in central Kenya.

Who runs Unsolicited Dik-Diks? An investigation dead-ends.

I have plenty of experience searching for sources, but I was unprepared for the challenge of rooting out the owner of Unsolicited Dik-Diks. The account has no identifying information; the username isn’t on other social media platforms; there are no identifiable patterns in the account’s “Likes” and it follows no one; and trying to reset the password revealed no clues.

Unsolicited Dik-Diks doesn’t seem to be striving for virality. Though it posts twice a day, the images and videos look unedited, without the careful cropping or color enhancements common in some follower-hungry profiles. It’s as though someone just typed “dik-dik” into Google Images and dumped the results. Most of the animals the account features seem to be in zoos or sanctuaries, and not in the wild, Ford added.

My last option was to reach out directly over Twitter, but that didn’t yield much either. I couldn’t DM the account, and the only person who responded to my public plea was a former editor of mine who used the opportunity to laugh about my story selection (the last thing I wrote for him was a 700-word story about “fecal sacs”). It seems that Unsolicited Dik-Diks doesn’t want to be found, or perhaps it’s just a bot — though even dik-dik bots need makers.

Then again, I’m not sure it matters. I’m just glad it exists. “Twitter and doomscrolling now go hand-in-hand,” Ford said, who subscribes to Unsolicited Dik-Diks, too. “Has anybody come across a photo on that account and felt worse?” Having built a massive account in less than three years, where each post is consistently retweeted and “Liked” by hundreds of people, I’m guessing the account has made a lot of people feel better. (To be fair, I should add that there are also Twitter accounts that regularly post images of other critters, like raccoons and possums — unsolicited animal pics is a whole genre.)

Yes, the whole thing is silly. We’re giggling like middle-school children at an animal with a vulgar-sounding name. But sometimes, that’s exactly what we need; it’s definitely what I need. Throw in an excuse to dredge up animal facts and, well, that’s my ideal story.