HIROLA'S RACE TO BEAT ENDANGERED STATUS

The ‘silent extinction’ of hirolas

The antelopes prefer grassy plains, as grazing animals that rely on speed to escape predators

In Summary

• Their small population has been within native ranges, restricted to communal lands along the Kenya-Somalia border, specifically within Garissa county

• Being grassland species, the hirolas have been forced to share the little grazing lands with the native pastoralists

The Hirola
The Hirola
Image: /COURTESY

The hirolas live in a world where very few people are concerned about their shrinking population, amid calls to save them from the endangered status. 

Hirola is a rare, medium-sized antelope, weighing up to 118kg, with tawny or tan brown hide and very sharp horns with black tips.

The hirola has long ears but its neck is short by antelope standards, giving it an almost bovine stature.

Kenya Wildlife Service reported that their numbers are diminishing fast in parks and other gazetted wildlife reserves.

Their numbers are estimated to be between 500 at the lowest and 1,000 on the higher side.

Over the years, their small population has been within native ranges, restricted to communal lands along the Kenya-Somalia border, specifically within Garissa county.

The antelopes prefer grassy plains, as grazing animals that rely on speed to escape predators. Since they are large antelopes, they require sustained feeding.

They are the only surviving members of the genus Beatragus, sadly. All of them survive in the wild and none in captivity.

Worryingly, the numbers have been on the decline since the 70s due to various factors, and just recently, they were declared 'world’s most endangered antelope'. Theirs is the smallest known number of an entire antelope species.

And as the majority focus on political and socioeconomic issues, it is high time we listened to the desperate signals and act. 

 

EXISTENTIAL THREATS

Being grassland species, the hirolas have been forced to share the little grazing lands with the native pastoralists, and this has caused a lot of harm to their numbers, especially when they contact viral deceases, such as the rinderpest.

Due to the nature of their habitat, hirolas have limited feeding time as the scorching heat restricts feeding time to only early morning hours and evening, when the temperatures are not too high. 

The species is highly sought after by predators, who mostly target the females with calves who disassociate from groups, making them easier prey.

The area experiences high banditry and attacks, making conservationists shy away from the habitats. That it’s a marginalised area with poor roads also makes it difficult for conservation.

The hirolas face stiff competition for pasture and other resources from the communities in the area, and the locals don't put much effort towards their recovery.

When it comes to water, however, they get enough from foods, especially in the morning, when the vegetation is covered with dew.

In almost all the counties, the most common fight is one of superiority and power between senators and governors.

The same way we have differences in ruling structures and boundaries, hirolas also would like inclusion, they want boundaries spelt out in black and white, simply because each niche is as important as the other. 

This would limit the human-wildlife conflict that the hirolas face. It would protect their feeding grounds and most importantly, it would give them protection.

The government should restore the status of the Arawale National Reserve, which is the centre of geographic range and is a government protected area in Garissa county. It used to thrive but since 1982, it has been neglected.

This neglect is affecting their numbers.

The hirolas also want to compete with other species in numbers and not for grass and everything else, and for their numbers to thrive, they must be protected.

The 2018-23 recovery plan provides detailed steps to counter threats and improve their conservation status.

The overall goal is to attain positive hirola population growth by attempting to address known drivers while identifying other emerging threats.

 

WAY FORWARD

In 2012, when a sanctuary was established, there was a brief recovery that saw their numbers increase by 110 animals, but that was the end of their short-lived 'success story'.

Hirola's darkest days came during the 2016-17 drought, which killed 23 of them.

There is more that can be done than just sitting around and watching as they disappear. Options include restoring their numbers through breeding programmes and offering protection.

Conservation efforts should not only be seen to target the obvious animals. Even those that are not known to many should also be included in the race to restore them from the alarming endangered status.