CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Breeding sanctuary to shore up mountain bongo numbers

Sanctuary is for gradual re-wildering of the captive subspecies back into the wild.

In Summary

• The most colourful African forest antelope, the mountain bongos are critically endangered. 

• Tourism CS Najib Balala presided over the groundbreaking for the construction of the sanctuary at Mount Kenya Safari Club on Monday.

 

A mountain bongo and her calf at the Bongo sanctuary in Mt Kenya
A mountain bongo and her calf at the Bongo sanctuary in Mt Kenya
Image: /KWS
Tourism CS Najib Balala during the groundbreaking for the mountain bongo sanctuary on December 14.
Tourism CS Najib Balala during the groundbreaking for the mountain bongo sanctuary on December 14.
Image: COURTESY

A mountain bongo breeding site is being set up in Laikipia to restore the numbers of the shy and timid creature.

The most colourful African forest antelope, the mountain bongos are critically endangered. 

Tourism CS Najib Balala presided over the groundbreaking for the construction of the sanctuary at Mount Kenya Safari Club on Monday.

Balala said the breeding sanctuary is for gradual re-wildering of the captive mountain bongos back into the wild.

"Safeguarding wildlife resources for current and future generations is one of the agenda for the government today," Balala said.

He said Kenya’s wildlife population is in decline, with an average loss of 68 per cent over the last 40 years.

"There are 33 mammalian, 28 avian and 356 plant species in Kenya under threat," he said.

Balala said the wildlife species population losses are driven by a combination of factors including, climate and land-use changes, habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, illegal trade, and human-wildlife conflict.

"The mountain bongo is one of the critically endangered subspecies and can only be found here in Kenya. That is why in July last year, we launched the National Mountain Bongo Recovery and Action Plan 2019 – 2023," he said.

The plan prescribes measures to enhance recovery of the species following years of population decline.

"The current population is estimated to be less than 100 individuals in the wild (Aberdare, Mt. Kenya -Ragati, Eburu, and Maasai Mau) and 49 individuals, down from a high of 77 individuals in July 2019, managed under the captive breeding program at Mount Kenya Game Ranch," he said.

He said the breeding programme at Mount Kenya game ranch has been showing positive population growth especially since 2017, with double-digit figures.

However, from January to August 2020, 37 mountain bongo deaths were reported, he said.

Balala said the mortality is the highest and most significant decline over the last seven years. It led to a decline of the bongo population at Mount Kenya Game Ranch to a low of 45 individuals despite 11 births in the same period.

"The mortalities were as a result of prolonged nutritional and husbandry deficiencies exacerbated by heavy rains and limited space. This made the animals immune-compromised thereby succumbing to opportunistic diseases," he said.

Balala said the KWS management recommended a raft of nutritional, husbandry and health measures to stop the mortalities and spur growth.

"To be able to oversee the implementation of the recommended measures, a resident veterinarian from KWS was temporarily deployed to the sanctuary, as MKGR management embarked on a recruitment process for a resident veterinarian who is expected to report in January 2021," he said.

Laikipia Deputy Governor John Mwaniki and Mt Kenya Wildlife Conservancy Patron Humphrey Kariuki were present.

Balala said the implementation of the recommended measures have borne fruit with five births recorded and only one death in the last three months.

"The population currently stands at 49 individuals, with a total of 10 females at various stages of pregnancy and 11 have been observed mating. It is anticipated that by early 2021 the population will grow to about 60," he said.

Balala said there is need to safeguard other antelope species like hirola in Garissa where 120 individuals are remaining, Roan antelope in Ruma National Park in Homa Bay county with only 12 remaining, Sable antelope in Shimba Hills, Kwale county, with 70 remaining and fewer than 100 bongo antelopes remaining.

In order to address the need for more space, the establishment of Mawingu Sanctuary was approved by the KWS Board of Trustees.

The CS said the ministry is grateful to Environment CS Keriako Tobiko for setting aside land within the Forest Reserve for the Sanctuary.

"This underscores my commitment and that of the government to ensure no species goes into extinction due to decisions which we could have made to secure the species. I want to encourage Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy to continue to embrace best practices and engage other experts both locally and internationally to continuously improve on their practices," he said.

He urged the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy to work closely with the recently launched Wildlife Research and Training Institute.

The core mandate of the institution is to undertake research that generates practical scientific information that informs wildlife conservation and management.

The institute also houses a pool of scientists specialised in wildlife research who in collaboration with other scientists across the world, will develop innovative solutions to mitigate the current threats facing wildlife, one of them being extinction.

KFS gave out 800 acres for the bongo sanctuary.

Mwaniki requested the CS to flag off the Nairobi- Nanyuki train to promote domestic tourism and to mark the 100 year’s celebrations of Nanyuki town.