The first mountain bongos have been released into a sanctuary under Mount Kenya as part of a global program to save extremely rare forest antelopes from certain extinction in the wild.
On Wednesday, two young males joined two other bongos released the day before in the forested foothills of Africa‘s second-highest peak, where the iconic antelopes haven’t been seen for nearly 30 years.
Kenya is the last place where the majestic animals are still found in their natural habitat.
Bongos once existed in large numbers, but today less than 100 are thought to roam the equatorial forests of Kenya, and the species is listed as critically endangered.
As wild populations have crashed, conservationists in Kenya have bred bongos in a bid to bring a privileged few back into the wild and give endangered antelope a fighting chance at survival.
This “rewilding” strategy is bold and difficult: captive bongos must be completely weaned from humans, and the painstaking work of preparing the antelopes for the wild has taken nearly 20 years.
“Finally, these bongos are being reseeded,” Kenya’s Tourism and Wildlife Minister Najib Balala said at the opening of the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary near the central town of Nanyuki.
“What a celebration. What a success.”
Endangered and neglected
Elusive and beautiful – with distinctive spiraling horns and striking striped coats – mountain bongos were a sought-after trophy for colonial-era wildlife hunters.
In the second half of the 20th century, habitat loss, diseases introduced by livestock, and poaching for bushmeat further decimated their numbers.
The last wild bongo sighting in the highlands around Mount Kenya – one of their historic ranges, along with the Aberdares and Eburu and Mau forests – was a carcass found in 1994.
A decade later, with their looming extinction, a selection of captive bongos were brought from zoos in the United States and placed in a rewilding program run by the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.
The first batch were essentially tame, completely alien to Kenya’s climate and entirely dependent on humans for food and water, said Isaac Lekolool, chief veterinary officer at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
But with each succeeding generation came independence and a natural instinct for nature.
Those carefully selected for reseeding were young and healthy, confident of self-feeding, and highly suspicious of human disturbance.
“It was an 18-year journey, and today it came to fruition,” Lekolool said.
A fifth bongo is expected to be released later Wednesday, officials said, making three males and two females among the first reintroduced to the 776-acre (314-hectare) sanctuary.
Every six months, five additional bongos will be released to diversify the mating pool and strengthen the numbers.
Offspring born and subsequently raised in the wild could be transferred to other bongo habitats elsewhere in Kenya to build up populations there.
KWS envisions a bongo population of at least 750 across the country by 2050.
Balala said the bongo was one of Africa’s most neglected endangered mammals, despite having far fewer numbers than better-known animals like elephants, rhinos and lions.
“These are the ones we ignored for a long time, and now we’re focusing on them,” he said.
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© 2022 AFP
Quote: Kenya launches bid to save wild bongos from extinction (March 9, 2022) retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-03-kenya-wild-bongos-extinction.html
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