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Africa’s most elusive antelope edges closer to extinction in the wild: Kenya issues a global alert.

Date Published: 02 Aug, 2010
Africa’s most elusive antelope edges closer to extinction in the wild: Kenya issues a global alert.

The Mountain Bongo is an endangered species and is only found in Kenya. Fewer than 200 are believed to survive in the wild.


The Mountain Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci) is on the edge of extinction mainly due to genetic factors, predation, disease and forest habitat threats.
This was announced by the Director of Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr Julius Kipng’etich and Dr Jake Veasey, Coordinator for Bongo, IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, in a jointly signed press statement today (Thursday July 29, 2010) at KWS headquarters in Lang’ata, Nairobi.
The statement reads:
“The Mountain Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci) existing in the wild is on the edge of extinction mainly due to poaching and forest habitat threats. It is the largest forest antelope, weighing up to 300 kg. Chestnut brown with a series of white flank stripes and long twisted horns in both males and females, the Mountain Bongo, which has been branded on the Aberdare National Park’s emblem, is outstandingly beautiful. It is highly elusive, remaining in high altitude forest.


Kenya hosts the entire global population of 103 bongos in the wild, scattered in four completely isolated remnant groups in some highland forests on the east and west sides of the Great Rift Valley. Aberdare National Park and Forest Reserve is the strong hold for bongos in the country with an estimated population of 50 individuals. Mau West Forest holds an estimated 30 individuals, Mount Kenya Forest about 15 individuals whereas the Mau Eburru Forest contains 9 individuals.
There are also another 68 individuals in a semi-captive facility on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Bongo is believed to be locally extinct in Londiani, Cherangani and Chepalungu forests. Recent population models predict bongo could be extinct in the wild in as little as 14 years if present trends were to continue.
The Mountain Bongo is now the most threatened antelope in Kenya and possibly the most endangered large land mammal south of the Sahara. A major initiative is required to enhance the surveillance of wild bongo in Kenya and to strengthen security measures in Kenya’s forest ecosystems. The situation for bongo today is as grave as it was for elephant and black rhino in the late eighties. Since that time, Kenya has successfully stopped the downward population trend of these species, which though still threatened by well financed poachers with international links, have now stabilized.
The Mountain Bongo is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
Bongo conservation presents a major challenge to Kenya Wildlife Service. An expert think tank known as the National Bongo Conservation Task Force was constituted in 2008 to spearhead efforts to conserve the species. The task force has been consulting with various experts and stakeholders ever since to formulate a national bongo conservation strategy. The task force this week held a major stakeholders workshop in Nyeri to come up with a national conservation strategy for the bongo. It is expected that the workshop will spell out prescriptions for the long term conservation of the species. A finalized strategy will be made public in due course.
We wish to make an appeal today to Kenyans to continue the efforts to bring stability to the forest ecosystems that remain vital ‘water towers’, and the source of invaluable ecosystem services which benefit Kenyans in many ways, in addition to being internationally important wildlife heritage sites. We believe the international conservation community has a role to play in ensuring sufficient support for the surveillance and management processes needed both for bongo and our threatened mountain ecosystems. It is a “flagship species” for indigenous forest conservation.
We wish to thank the early initiators who raised the awareness of the bongo’s continued existence in the wild. The Bongo Surveillance Programme (BSP) was a community initiative started in 2003. In collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service and the conservation charity – Rhino Ark, the BSP began an active programme of forest surveillance to determine existence of bongo in the Aberdares where the forest habitat was greatly stabilized by the Rhino Ark fence.

We recognize and appreciate the financial support given to bongo conservation efforts in recent years by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the US based Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) and the UK’s Woburn Safari Park.
A major effort is now needed to complete the genetic analysis of dung samples collected in the wild to positively confirm the numbers existing in these remnant populations and assess the genetic diversity of wild and captive populations. This will ensure that subsequent conservation strategies are based on evidence. We can announce today that the American Museum of Natural History is willing to assist in this urgent task.
The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy – a private conservation initiative – was host to 18 bongos which were flown from host zoos in the United States in 2004. The long term aim is to re-introduce them into secure former natural range, starting with Mt Kenya area. This process is expected to start soon, once a fenced protection zone is placed on the northern side of Mt. Kenya, near Mawingo.


The Kenya National Bongo Conservation Task Force that has put on hold plans to re-introduce bongo into the wild until DNA analysis has been completed. This will ensure effective conservation and management of the genetic diversity of Kenya’s remaining bongo, through decisions that are based on solid, scientific evidence.
The entire Mountain Bongo population in zoos all over the world totalling over 500 animals were originally from the forests of the Aberdares in Kenya. As a result, there are concerns regarding the bongo populations of Eburu, Mau and Mount Kenya, whose genetic diversity may be under-represented in these captive herds, which also fall outside Kenya’s national park system.

We call upon local and international support to assist Kenya in the conservation of bongo for now and into the future.”

 

Julius Kipng’etich (Director Kenya Wildlife Service)                                                              

Dr Jake Veasey  (Coordinator for Bongo, IUCN Antelope Specialist Group)

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