New home for Mountain Bongo opened, locals vow not to hunt them for meat again

Wildlife partners have opened a new san ctuary for endangered Mountain Bongo in Meru County.

The sanctuary occupying 250 acres will serve as a new home for 25 Mountain Bongo flown in from Florida, US. It is an initiative of different Kenyan and American partners.

Meru Bongo and Rhino Conservation Trust spearheaded the establishment of the sanctuary in Mount Kenya forest, in partnership with Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, Florida International University’s Tropical Conservation Institute, Meru County Government and local community forest associations (CFAs).

The 25 Bongos have been in custody of Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in the US and its founder and President Dr Paul Reillo underlined the milestone in airlifting the endangered animals from the US into Nairobi, then to the Meru forest.

In the 70s, the Bongos were many in the forest but a sustained hunting spree by locals for their meat decimated their numbers.

Some of the rare species were also taken out of the country by foreigners and over 50 years later, there are less than 1,000 mountain Bongos in Kenya, the conservationists said.

As the project to bring 25 of them back into the country (17 males, 8 female) kicked off, locals vowed never to hunt them for meat again, and the KFS and KWS committed stringent measures to protect and multiply their numbers.

Dr Reillo said they realised some of the world’s most important wildlife were vanishing.

“Fifty years ago many of your Bongos left Kenya, sold to zoos and collectors it was a very sad time. I always believed bongo were the property of Kenya and that our job was to simply take care of them so that we could bring them back,” Reillo said.

He said the initiative to bring the Bongos back to Kenya was a major milestone.  “This is a fascinating, majestic and beautiful creature. As we moved forward with the idea of bringing them back to Kenya, we had to recognize that we had to do it right. The only way to do it is to work with everyone,” he said.

Dr Reillo said the Bongos coming back were the 20th generation of those that lived in Kenya 50 years ago.

“They are innocent and naïve. They have never seen Kenya, the soil, plants, the climate and the other inhabitants so we are doing everything possible with the best minds in Kenya and the world to make sure they come back safely, healthy and that they live and thrive,” Reillo said.

She said the project will save the species which is on the brink of extinction. “This is the project that will change everything because this is a species that is on the brink of extinction. We will bring it back and the world will see how you (Kenya) did it”. 

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza who is the patron of the project said: “We are launching one of the best sanctuaries ever. I am sure that we are going to right the history for the generations."

She was represented by the County Secretary Dr Kiambi Atheru said.  The governor added: “Once the animals are brought in, the project will bring many important benefits; conservation of nearly extinct animals, enhancing tourist attraction and job creation and many others." 

The County Kenya Forest Service Conservator, Wellington Ndaka said they have 16 rangers who will protect the Bongos, in partnership with CFAs.

“When they (Bongos) come we are going to be doing daily patrols and also reporting in conjunction with county government, KWS, CFAs and any other agent of interest,” Mr Ndaka said.