Protecting the critically endangered Mountain Bongo a top priority

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In 1895, only 20 white rhinos were left in South Africa owing to massive poaching.Today, south Africa is home to 20,000 rhinos, the largest concentration of this endangered species in the world. It is proof that targeted conservation can bear positive results.

The world’s leading biologists and ecologists have intimated that one in five animal species on earth now faces extinction with the figures expected to rise to 50 percent by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken.
According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016, the world’s leading, science-based look at the health of our planet, we are on course to experience a 67 percent decline by 2020 in global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles as compared to 1970 numbers.

Threatened creatures such as the rhino may make the headlines, but little attention is paid to the less known animals. The critically endangered Mountain Bongo is one such animal.

Kenyans born around Mt Elgon, Mt Kenya and parts of Rift Valley in the early 80’s may recall having seen the gracious antelopes.

Considered the most beautiful antelope, bongos are only found in Kenya in their natural habitat, and there are approximately 100 of them left in the wild. The population in the wild has dipped in the past 50 years primarily due to unrestricted hunting, poaching, loss of habitat, illegal logging in forests and diseases such as rinderpest which is thought to have drastically cut their numbers in the 1890s and early 1900s. It is now listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Efforts towards the rehabilitation of the Mountain Bongo began in earnest over a decade ago. A repatriation and breeding programme began in 2004 when 13 zoos and conservation organisations in the U.S. partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the United Nations among others to start repopulating the critically endangered antelope. Eighteen captive-bred Bongos were flown to the Mount Kenya Game Ranch to join another 16, where a herd is steadily thriving as they live and breed in a protected environment.

Barely a month ago, global efforts towards the survival of the critically endangered Mountain Bongo antelope, received a boost following four births at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC).

The births have renewed hope for the survival of the rare Mountain Bongo Antelope whose population of about 100 in the wild worldwide is below the threshold of 250 mature individuals required to make a genetically stable population.

Today, MKWC holds the world’s largest herd of Mountain Bongo now totalling 72 following the recent births. The conservancy runs a rehabilitation program that breeds mountain bongos for reintroduction into their natural habitat. It is the only conservancy in the world whose program is undertaken in a semi wild environment
A breeding programme with the aim of increasing the number of these animals is run by the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC), the fundraising arm that supports conservation programs of the ranch. This is the only bongo breeding programme of its kind in the world where these animals are bred in a semi-wild environment. The current population of 68 bongos live on 130-acres, divided into 14 paddocks, allowing the separation of incompatible breeding groups in the conservancy.

Despite these diligent efforts in conservation, the number is way below the minimum adults that make a genetically viable population, and we need to do more!

MKWC has taken an integrated approach to providing Kenya with healthy and genetically diverse mountain bongo herds that can fully fend for themselves in the wild for repopulating current and former ranges.

The Conservancy has engaged the communities in the mountain ranges to monitor the antelope and identify any anomalies. This model has transcended the community engagement into the school curriculums as the need for conservation knowledge from a young age becomes critical so as to nurture a holistic and positive communal mind-set towards the importance of the environment.

Partnerships with the National Bongo Taskforce, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forestry Service have also boosted the steady progress being made to raise the population of the Mountain bongo.

However, beyond the government agencies, the bigger responsibility for conservation lies with the citizens. Human activities have over the years interfered with the animals’ natural habitats and hampered conservation. Steady population growth is putting pressure on some of Kenya’s pristine wild habitats. The search for timber, food and fuel especially the destructive logging and charcoal burning trade has dealt a deadly blow to the once virgin wild habitats.

Our natural resources are our heritage; we owe our children the commitment to protect their legacy against all agents of destruction and extinction. We must ensure the survival and the continuation of every species in our country. Our children must be educated to aspire beyond the instant gratification that poaching or deforestation brings; preservation and sustainability are crucial. There is a lot at stake; we must remain committed.
In August, there were four new births at the conservancy, proving that success comes about as a result of hard work and preparation.

Through MKWC’s extensive education programme and partnerships, we hope to step-up the awareness of the mountain bongo, increase their numbers and most importantly secure their natural habitats. We are calling on likeminded Kenyans to join the conservation cause so that we can save the animals facing extinction. No small effort goes to waste; it all counts when we come together!

Donald is the Conservancy Manager at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy. Email: [email protected]

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