Close

Government sets aside 750 acres to conserve Mountain Bongo

In Summary

• Their dark brown coat with white and yellow stripes running down their body makes them camouflage perfectly. 

Tourism CS Najib Balala together with Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy Trustee Margaret Mbaka during a visit to the Bongo sanctuary in Nanyuki
Tourism CS Najib Balala together with Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy Trustee Margaret Mbaka during a visit to the Bongo sanctuary in Nanyuki
Image: Photo Courtesy KWS

Rated as the most elusive and extremely rare species of the antelope family, the Mountain Bongo has reached an all-time low according to a study thus the call to protect the species.

It is due to their elusive nature that the animal has remained relatively unknown to many despite its uniqueness to Kenyan mountainous habitats of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.

The species, mostly a native of mountainous environment in their dark brown coat with white and yellow stripes running down their body makes them camouflage and remain perfectly at home in their habitats.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, concerted efforts between the government, various stakeholders and conservation agencies, other conservation measures have been undertaken alongside the repatriation to conserve and understand various biological aspects of the bongo in the wild.

The core objective of the project was to establish an in situ captive breeding programme, in a natural setting, as the first phase of several conservation steps required to reintroduce mountain bongos to the wild.

In 2003, a bongo repatriation programme from the USA was initiated to establish a sustainable, in situ managed bongo population.

The programme saw the repatriation of 18 Mountain Bongo from the USA where they were held in zoos. It aims to grow their numbers and avail them to the National Bongo Conservation Task Force (NBTF) under The Mountain Bongo Breeding Program Repatriation Project.

The numbers of the species has steadily risen to 76 as at July 2019 from 18 when the efforts begun back in 2004 according to KWS records.

On 26-28 July 2010, a National Recovery and Action Plan for the mountain bongo was drafted whose action plan’s vision was to ensure genetically viable populations of bongo persist in their natural habitat within Kenya.

Following their declining numbers, with less than 100 species left in the wild, the Bongo was placed under the critically endangered species list by the International Union for conservation of Nature.

 

Speaking during National Mountain Bongo recovery and action plan in Nanyuki, Cabinet secretary Najib Balala insisted that the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife will set aside over 750 acres of land within Mount Kenya forest  to aide in the conservation of the critically endangered Mountain Bongo.

“The land set aside by the Kenya Forest Service will enable us to increase the number of Mountain Bongos to a sustainable population. We currently have 96 Mountain Bongos in the wild and 77 in captivity being used for breeding by the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy,” CS Balala said.

A mother Bongo and her calf at the Bongo sanctuary in Mount Kenya
A mother Bongo and her calf at the Bongo sanctuary in Mount Kenya
Image: Kenya Wildlife Service

Fun facts about the Bongo:

  • It is the largest, heaviest, and most colorful African forest antelope. It has an auburn/chestnut coat with 10 to 15 vertical whitish-yellow stripes running down its sides
  • They are quite timid and are easily frightened. They prefer to live in dense and tangled undergrowth. They are found in high altitude montane forests of about 2000-3000 meter
  • The large ears are believed to sharpen their hearing and the distinctive coloration may help the bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats
  • They are both browsers and grazers, eating a variety of leaves, shoots and grasses. They sometimes feed on leaves by using their horns to twist and break the branches of trees and shrubs
  • The bongo can reach a speed of 69 kilometers per hour when it needs to escape from predators. It runs with horns positioned parallel to its back to avoid contact with nearby vines and lianas.
  • Bongos are the only tragelaphid speciesin which both sexes have horns.
  • The bongo has a lifespan of 12 years in the wild and up to 22 years in captivity.

According to conservationists, human activities lead in the cause for declining numbers of critically endangered species like the Bongo.

A Bongo calf at the breeding sanctuary in Nanyuki.
A Bongo calf at the breeding sanctuary in Nanyuki.
Image: Kenya Wildlife Service

Other factors that threaten the existence of the Bongo include hunting, disease from grazing cattle by the natives such as rinderpest and habitat loss.

Our activities lead in destruction of habitat leading to habitat loss, declining number of animals and plant species.

In fact a renowned naturalist, scientist and advocate for protection of nature, Sir David Attenborough once remarked: “Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them. Today we’re doing so on a greater scale than ever.” 

It is due to our activities that animal species especially here in Kenya like the Bongo have reached such critical levels leading them to be flagged as critically endangered, a lot needs to be done and a lot more towards protection and championing the need to save such species if the Government and stakeholders alike are to realize the 750 target by 2050.

Authorities warn that despite their status and waring study of their declining number of the magnificent Antelope has not been given focus despite being endemic to Kenya as compared to conserving members of the big Five; African Elephants and the Rhino.