Anyone who wants to see a roan antelope in Kenya has to make their way to the Ruma National Park in Homa Bay County in Western Kenya, close to the shores of Lake Victoria.
Known locally as korongo, the roan is globally classified as a Least Concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, in Kenya, it is highly threatened due to its low population.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), there were only 12 roan antelopes in Ruma National Park as of 2020.
The low number of antelopes can be attributed to many risk factors including poaching. Locals believe roan antelope meat is softer and more delicious than most wildlife.
Another risk is wild fires. KWS Assistant Director in charge of Ruma National Park, David Oyugi, says most fires are lit by locals during dry seasons in the area, especially in February and March.
“We experience many cases of fire in the park during dry seasons. Findings reveal that locals burn the park because they believe the fires attract rainfall. But we sensitise them to avoid doing so because the fires endanger our wild animals,” he said.
Another danger which has threatened lives of the roan antelopes are predators, notably leopards and hyenas. Oyugi said the predators kill and feed on young and weak roan antelopes, thus reducing their population.
He said with the risks predisposing the antelopes to extinction, it was imperative for stakeholders to set up interventions to protect the animals.
For this reason, the KWS created a roan antelope sanctuary in the park in 2021. The sanctuary is made of predator proof fence. Even poachers cannot penetrate it.
The 5.6 square kilometre sanctuary is located in the north-western part of the park. It was fenced and all carnivorous animals which prey on roan antelopes were trapped and evacuated from the sanctuary.
“We made this roan antelope sanctuary to get a place where only roan antelopes can stay to enhance their survival and multiplication in the park,” Oyugi said.
He noted that they realised impact of the sanctuary through increase in the number of antelopes in the park.
“When we set up the sanctuary, we had only 12 roan antelopes. Our achievement is that their population has multiplied to 25 today,” he said.
Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga said the county government has also made efforts in sensitising residents against human activities which endanger lives of roan antelopes.
“The county government has goodwill on conservation of the roan antelopes. We always sensitise residents on the importance of avoiding activities such as poaching and fires which put lives of the wild animals at risk,” Wanga said.
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Another achievement is the launch of Roan Antelope Half Marathon, undertaken by the county government in partnership with the KWS and Athletics Kenya.
The first marathon took place in April, and will be held annually with the goal of popularizing the Park as a tourist destination. Funds earned from the event will go towards efforts of safeguarding the roan antelopes.
Speaker of the county assembly, Julius Gaya, said the administration will approve any legislation that enhances tourism in the county.
Besides the roan antelope, Ruma has wildlife species such as the Rothschild’s giraffe, serval cat, hyena, impala, monkey, oribi, rhino, bohor reedbuck, leopard, Jackson’s hartebeest and buffalo.
County Tourism Executive Polycarp Okombo urged residents to preserve the park.
“Let Homa Bay residents feel part and parcel of the park so that they also come to see wildlife for domestic purposes. This park is a very important tourist attraction in this county,” said Okombo.
Governor Wanga noted that the recent launch of a new airline at Kabunde Airstrip in Homa Bay was a good opportunity for investors in the tourism and hospitality sectors in the county.