Mountain bongos have been released into a Kenyan sanctuary under a world-leading programme to reintroduce forest antelopes to their native habitat.
The Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary, near the central town of Nanyuki, is now home to five mountain bongos – three males and two females – who were released into the wooded foothills of Africa’s second-highest peak, Mount Kenya.
Kenya is the last place where the majestic animals are still found in their native habitat. Bongos once existed in great numbers but today fewer than 100 are believed to roam Kenya’s equatorial forests. The iconic antelopes have not been seen in Mount Kenya in nearly 30 years.
Boasting distinctive spiral horns and striking striped coats, mountain bongos were once sought as trophies for colonial-era wildlife hunters. In the latter half of the 20th century, habitat loss, diseases introduced by cattle and poaching for bushmeat further decimated their number.
The last wild bongo sighting in the highlands around Mount Kenya – one of their historic rangelands, along with the Aberdares and the Eburu and Mau Forests – was a carcass found in 1994.
Conservationists in Kenya have bred bongos with the aim of returning some to nature. A selection of captive bongos were brought from zoos in the United States in 2004 and placed in a rewilding programme run by the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.
The first batch were essentially tame, total strangers to Kenya’s climate and entirely dependent on humans for food and water, said Isaac Lekolool, the head of veterinary services at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
But with each subsequent generation came independence and natural instinct for the wild.
Those carefully selected for rewilding were young and healthy, confident at foraging alone, and very wary of human disturbance.
Every six months, a further five bongos will be introduced to the 776-acre (314-hectare) sanctuary in order to diversify the mating pool and strengthen numbers.
Offspring subsequently born and reared in the wild could be translocated to other bongo habitats elsewhere in Kenya to bolster populations there.
KWS envisions a bongo population of at least 750 across the country by 2050.
Kenya’s minister of tourism and wildlife, Najib Balala said the bongo was among the most neglected of Africa’s endangered mammals, despite numbers well below that of higher-profile animals like elephants, rhinos and lions.
He said: “These [mountain bongos] are the ones we have ignored for a long time, and now, we are putting emphasis on them.
“Finally, these bongos are being rewilded. What a celebration. What a success.”
Image Credit: Tony Karumba/AFP
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.