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Hirola Antelope National Census 23rd to 31st January 2011
Date Published: 28 Jan, 2011
A group of Hirolas pose, they are very shy. weigh between 75 - 160 kg. And are found in seasonal arid regions, grassy plains, dry acacia bush and coastal forests.
The Kenya Wildlife Service is currently carrying out a national census on the hirola antelope, as a key step in the development of the Hirola Conservation Strategy. The census, which will go on until 31 January, is taking place in Masalani, Ijara District. It aims to update information on the numbers and distribution of hirola, a critically endangered species, to enable appropriate planning for its conservation.
Hirola (Beatragus hunteri) has had a restricted range in the recent history although fossil records indicate it had once a pan African distribution in the dry ecosystems. It is now classified according to the IUCN Red Data List Criteria as a “critically endangered” species. This category is the last stage of the process ultimately leading to extinction of a species should the factors causing the decline remain. As the only existing member of its genus, the loss would be the first such case since the evolution of the modern man. Survival of the hirola has been of concern to conservationists since the early 1960s. The population has declined from roughly 14,000 animals in the 1970s to between 600 and 2,000 today. Much of its decline seems to have occurred between 1983 and 1985 during major rinderpest epizootic outbreak as well as rebel/military/refugee impact in the region.
The historic range of hirola in Kenya and Somalia is estimated at roughly 38,400km². The range of the hirola in Kenya declined from about 17,900km² in the 1960’s to approximately 7,600km² in 1996. Today only the central portion of the species historic range in Kenya is occupied.
Survival of the hirola has been of concern to conservationists since the early 1960s. The population has declined from roughly 14,000 animals in the 1970s to between 600 and 2,000 today. Much of its decline seems to have occurred between 1983 and 1985 during a major rinderpest epidemic in the region.
In 1963, a founder population of 10-20 hirola was released into Tsavo East National Park. This population grew to 79 individuals by 1996. In 1996, another 29 hirola were translocated into this population. There is an estimated 100 hirola in Tsavo East National Park currently.
Hirola Conservation Interventions
The process towards the development of a Hirola Conservation Strategy was initiated in 1996. The process was based on an interactive participatory approach taking into considerations the needs of the managing institutions that have embraced the multiple stakeholders of the hirola range in the planning process.
In August 2002 the Hirola Management Committee (HMC) organized the Hirola Conservation Strategy Planning Workshop in Isiolo, which brought together representatives of hirola conservation stakeholders. The aim of the workshop was to review the past hirola conservation efforts in the country, highlight the success and weakness in the species conservation efforts then identify ways of strengthening the success and mitigating against the weakness within a framework of a National Plan of action for hirola conservation.
Hirola have been legally protected from hunting in Kenya since 1971 (Kenya gazette supplement 2 April 1971, No 26, legal notes No 65. Amendment of schedules in the wildlife protection Act cap. 375) and in Somalia since 1977 when all hunting was banned. The Hirola is included in class B of the African concentration (1969) this means that it may be hunted or collected only under special authorization granted by the appropriate authority.
Poaching is a key threat to the survival of the hirola. Therefore, one of the key aims of this strategy is to eliminate poaching in order to allow the remaining population to increase to the projected numbers, and eventually achieve the overall vision of the plan.
The requirement for ranger/community scout staffing in the hirola range is critical to ensure protection of the species and its range. Surveillance by rangers and scouts has been an important factor in halting hirola poaching in its range, and in improving awareness. However, due to staffing reductions and insignificant security patrols, it has become apparent that levels of security and anti-poaching are poor and inadequate.
Substantial strengthening of the security in the hirola ranges will be undertaken. This will center on increased staffing and provision of rangers for patrolling within the hirola range. The ranger patrol units will complement the work of the hirola community scouts.
Creation of Ishaqbini Community Hirola Sanctuary
Considering the fact that over 90% of the hirola population occurs outside the protected areas, it is more important that efforts are directed at protection and management of the whole range and for creation of community hirola management systems, sanctuaries or conservancies to ensure the protection of the hirola.
In order to alleviate the conflict that exists at present between KWS and the local community, it is imperative that the local community is involved in hirola conservation measures. For example, the area around Galmagala that harbours substantial numbers of hirola could be converted into a community based conservation zone. This objective could be achieved through the formation of local conservation groups, and the upgrading of protection. However, community-based conservation programs will only succeed if the communities involved receive tangible benefits. The elders of the community around the Galmagala area have consistently expressed their desire to allocate part of their land to a community based hirola conservation zone. In return, they wish to be assisted in building dams and bore holes to provide water to the community as well as their livestock, and to be provided with armed protection against banditry from neighbouring Somalia
The creation of conservation groups in the area has been a positive development but has also led to conflicts and suspicion amongst the groups. Its important therefore that consensus is reached and responsibilities are appropriately delegated by the KWS to the various stakeholder and partnerships established.
Ishaqbini Conservancy was born in this way. It is the first community conservancy in North Eastern Province. Other species in the conservancy are wild dogs, cheetahs, elephants and the lesser kudu. It is located in the Masalani Division of Ijara District and covers an area of approximately 20,000 acres. It is managed by the local community.
The conservancy is well positioned for business development, specifically tourism. Coastal tourism activities in Lamu, Malindi and Watamu are constantly searching for an inland safari destination to diversify activities for their clients. Located only 80 Km from Lamu and on a direct flight path of scheduled flights from Nairobi to Lamu, Ishaqbini offers this opportunity and with the unique attractions of the Tana River, Hirola, Tana red colobus, Tana mangabey and other wildlife, the conservancy has a market advantage. Ishaqbini could have a tourism venture which will be key in providing revenues as incentives for community support and participation and in securing the necessary operational finances over the medium to longterm. This will assist in improving the livelihoods of the local people and in the achievement of the goal of Vision 2030.