NATURE

Mountain Bongo: Kenyan-only antelope

They have been placed under the critically endangered species list

In Summary

• They were hunted for meat, coat and horns

• There are only 76 left in the wild 

A Mountain Bongo and her calf at the Bongo sanctuary in mount Kenya
A Mountain Bongo and her calf at the Bongo sanctuary in mount Kenya
Image: KWS

Driven to near extinction during the colonial era by trophy hunters, game meat junkies and for their prized, chestnut coat, the mountain bongo have been placed under the critically endangered species list by the International Union for conservation of Nature.

They are the largest, heaviest and most colourful African forest antelope. It is due to their declining numbers that Kenya, the only custodian of the species, made moves to repatriate the animals that had been placed in zoos across the world to establish a breeding programme to try and restore the numbers of the shy and timid creature.

The mountain bongos, prior to their repatriation, were only 18 left in captivity.

A mountain bongo 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 2,000-3,000 meters.

Their large ears are believed to sharpen their hearing and the distinctive coloration help the bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.

 

EXISTENTIAL THREATS

In the last decade, human activities have contributed largely in driving the bongos to extinction, but until the discovery and study of their waning figures, they were placed under strict surveillance.

Hunting for game meat by natives was the leading cause in their declining numbers, as they were preferred for their meat.

Trophy hunting for their prized coat in the European and overseas market followed. Their skull with well-formed and curved horns was also craved for.

Due to their proximity to locals’ grazing field, the bongos also inherited diseases like the rinderpest from cattle, and that also contributed immensely to their fall.

Human-wildlife conflict for grazing fields and development of settlements also proved disastrous in the population of bongos.

But with all said and done, there is hope for the Bongo. Just recently, a bouncy baby bongo was born in the Bongo Breeding Sanctuary in Nanyuki, adding the numbers to 77.

And what’s more, their new 750-acre plot will be critical towards restoring its numbers.

After being part of the mountain bongos’ dark past, at least we can now redeem ourselves by contributing to restoring their population. All will not be lost eventually.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

 

Mountain bongos 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 km 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 lanais.

Bongos are the only tragelaphid species in which both sexes have horns and have a lifespan of 12 years in the wild and up to 22 years in captivity.

The bongo’s closest relatives include the greater and laser kudu, the bushbuck and the mountain nyala and most recently the common eland was placed under this family.