•The Hirola has suffered huge population decline over the past 40 years due to disease, habitat loss, poaching, and predation. There is now an estimated wild population of 450 individuals
The Kenya Wildlife Service in partnership with Northern Rangeland Trust has collared five critically endangered hirola antelopes in Garissa county, in a move aimed at securing their future.
The collaring of the endangered antelopes followed a 160 per cent increase in the population of hirolas in the sanctuary since it was established in 2012.
The four-day exercise from November 5 is a huge milestone for the community-run project that seeks to conserve the world’s most endangered antelope.
The drive was conducted at the request of the Ishaqbini Hirola community conservancy board. It sought KWS services to monitor their movement patterns within the sanctuary and the wider conservancy once they are released from the sanctuary.
By December last year, the hirola population was approximately 130 representing a 13 per cent increase. That approximately accounts for between 20 and 25 per cent the global population of the hirolas.
The growth has resulted in increased pressure on the resources within the sanctuary, leading to reduced forage and fierce competition between hirola males, reducing their breeding chances.
Ishaqbini Hirola community conservancy manager Ahmed Noor said the sanctuary was reaching its capacity after a successful breeding of the hirolas.
“There is a need to release male herds out of the sanctuary into the larger Ishaqbini conservancy in order to further boost our conservation efforts,” he said
The collars which send a GPS position twice daily to the sanctuary management team will enable rangers to remotely monitor the wildlife in readiness for a soft release through a gate system in a large boma. That will allow the Hirola to enter at their own will while keeping off predators from the sanctuary.
Upon the release, the collars will enable Ishaqbini conservancy to continue monitoring their interaction with other wildlife that are in the free-ranging area, and the information will help implement conservation efforts.
The Hirola has suffered huge population declines over the past 40 years due to disease, habitat loss, poaching, and predation.
There is now an estimated wild population of 450 individuals, as the bespectacled antelope is native to the arid woodlands and savannah of the Kenya-Somali border, and now found only in isolated pockets of Kenya.
KWS senior scientist, Eastern conservation area Geoffrey Bundotich, said they were happy to have approved the creation of Ishaqbini Hirola Sanctuary as part of the implementation of national hirola recovery and action plan.
He said the current population growth is laudable.
“The collaring exercise will help us monitor in real-time the ranging pattern of the hirolas once released in the expanded sanctuary. We will continue to work with the local communities and other partners to ensure a sustained hirola growth through the sanctuary expansion,” he said.
To curb potential disease outbreaks that have proved fatal to hirolas in the past, disease surveillance and management has been ongoing in Ishaqbini Hirola community conservancy.
An ongoing vaccination exercise supported by San Diego Zoo Global is expected to vaccinate over 50,000 head of livestock, including sheep, goats and cattle, against viruses and bacteria infections. In 2019, 63,000 heads of livestock were vaccinated.
“We are working with the community and the county government in targeting livestock for vaccination to prevent cross-infection of disease among domestic and wildlife‚” said veterenian Stephen Chege.
With an estimated 15,000 hirola in the early 70s, it is crucial to mitigate potential risks of an outbreak and deaths of both domestic animals and wildlife, he said.
“However, a rinderpest outbreak resulted in mass deaths of domestic and wildlife and in turn the loss of over 80 per cent of their population‚” Chege said
The Ishaqbini Hirola community conservancy is also home to a variety of other species including reticulated giraffe, Wwrthog, Lesser kudu, gerenuk, Ostrich and even a unique herd of largely maneless plains zebra.
Edited by Kiilu Damaris