Iconic mountain bongo faces extinction, census shows

Estimates indicate that there could be about 150 individuals.

In Summary

• Inferential figures show that their population stands at less than 100 individuals mainly confined to the Aberdare and Maasai Mau.

• The wildlife is a critically endangered antelope sub-species only found in Kenya.

A mountain bongo and her calf at a sanctuary in Mount Kenya
A mountain bongo and her calf at a sanctuary in Mount Kenya

The Kenyan mountain bongo might be extinct if deliberate measures are not put in place to recover their population.

The first-ever national wildlife census report 2021 shows that species numbers and range have undergone a drastic decline.

The animal is a critically endangered antelope sub-species only found in Kenya and endemic to the Aberdares, Mt Kenya, Cheranganis Hills, and the Mau Forests Complex.

A few individuals are left in the Eburu, Maasai Mau and South Western Mau.

The report estimates that 50 bongos are in Aberdare National Park, six in Mt Kenya National Park and another six in Eburu Forest.

It shows that nine are in South West Mau, 25 in Masai Mau, and a captive population of 54 at Mt Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, bringing the total to 150.

However, other estimates show that their population could be below 100.

Mountain bongos are shy and skittish, being found in thick forests thus difficult to be easily sighted and counted.

Most of the sightings are opportunistic and use indirect methods such as dung.

Camera trap images for individual identification are used to estimate the wild populations in Masai Mau, South West Mau, Eburu, Aberdares, and Ragati in Mt Kenya.

For the captive population in Mt Kenya Wildlife Conservancy physical sighting and individual ID is used. 

In 2003, bongo repatriation from the USA was initiated to establish a sustainable in situ managed bongo population at the Mt Kenya Game Ranch, now referred to as Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, from which multiple wild populations recovery strategies could evolve.

The principal 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.

The project aimed to reestablish a viable and self-sustaining population in the bongo’s native habitat.

The mountain bongo is listed as critically endangered by the  International Union for Conservation of Nature and listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, which allows limited trade on the species.

In Kenya, bongos are accorded full protection under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013.

Kenya has developed the first National Recovery and ActionPlan for The Mountain Bongo in Kenya (2019-23).

The strategy envisages having a viable,free-ranging and genetically representative population of mountain bongo thriving across intact historic mountain ecosystem ranges.

The goal of the strategy is to secure the minimum population size for mountain bongo within their ranges in Kenya, to achieve a national population of 730 individuals over the next 50 years.

The wild mountain bongo population declined from an estimated population of 500 individuals in 1975.

Some of the wild populations have only males thus without active intervention the population is likely to be locally extinct.

Enhanced monitoring using various methodologies including the use of DNA to update the population is required.

Efforts to recover the populations are however ongoing with the establishment of breeding sanctuaries in their natural range in Mucheene areas of Mount Kenya National Reserve, Ragati in Mt Kenya, Mawingu in Mt Kenya and Loldia in Eburu forest.

The founder stocks will be sourced in captive populations in Europe and the USA.

The ongoing recovery efforts through public-private partnership on the establishment of predator-free breeding sanctuaries should be fast-tracked to halt the decline.

The report has recommended enhanced monitoring of the remnant populations to update national estimates.

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