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Five endangered hirola antelope collared at conservancy

By Linda Akwabi | November 13th 2020
Dr Steve Chege from the Northern Rangelands Trust (R) is assisted by Henrik Rasmussen to collar a Hirola.

Five endangered hirola antelopes have been collared at Ishaqbini Hirola Sanctuary in Garissa County.

The four-day exercise, that was conducted from November 5 to 9, was at the request of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy Board to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) seeking to monitor movement patterns of the animal within the sanctuary and in future the wider Ishaqbini Community Conservancy once they are released from the sanctuary.

This was done in partnership with KWS and the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). 

The collars which send a GPS position twice daily to the sanctuary management team, will enable rangers to remotely monitor the wildlife in readiness for a soft release through a gate system in a large boma, allowing the hirola to enter at their own free will, while keeping off predators from the sanctuary. 

After the release, the collars will enable Ishaqbini Conservancy to continue monitoring their interaction with other wildlife that are in the free ranging area and the information will help implement conservation efforts to further secure their future. 

 “We are happy to have approved the creation of Ishaqbini Hirola Sanctuary as part of implementation of National Hirola Recovery and Action Plan and the current population growth is laudable. The collaring exercise will help us monitor real time the ranging pattern of the hirolas once released in the expanded sanctuary. We will continue to work with the local communities and other partners to ensure a sustained hirola growth through the sanctuary expansion,” said Geoffrey Bundotich, KWS Senior Scientist, Eastern Conservation Area. 

To curb potential disease outbreaks that have proved fatal to hirola in the past, surveillance and management has been ongoing in Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy. 

Ongoing vaccination supported by San Diego Zoo Global targets more than 50,000 livestock, including sheep, goats and cattle, against viruses and bacteria infections. In 2019, 63,000 livestock were vaccinated. 

“We are working with the community and the Garissa county government Veterinary Department and continue to target livestock for vaccination to prevent cross-infection of disease amongst domestic and wildlife species. This is crucial to mitigate on potential risk of an outbreak and deaths of both domestic animals, that are key livelihoods sources to pastoral communities, and wildlife especially the critically endangered hirola. In the 70s there was an estimated 15,000 hirola however, a rinderpest outbreak resulted in mass deaths of domestic and wildlife and in turn the loss of over 80 per cent of the hirola population,” said NRT Veterinarian, Dr Stephen Chege. 

The hirola population has declined over the past 40 years due to disease, habitat loss, poaching, and predation – they are now  estimated to 450. 

This endangered antelope is native to the arid woodlands and savannahs of the Kenya/Somali border, and now found only in isolated pockets of Kenya. 

There has been a 160 per cent increase in the population of hirola in the sanctuary since it was established in 2012. 

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With a founder population of 48 hirola, by December 2019 this had increased to approximately between 118 and 130, to represent a 13 per cent average annual growth rate. 

This counts for approximately between 20 and 25 per cent of the global population of hirola. 

The rising number of the animals has resulted in increased pressure on resources within the sanctuary, leading to reduced forage and fierce competition between hirola males, reducing breeding chances. 

“After observation, and the successful breeding of the hirola, the sanctuary is reaching its carrying capacity and there is now a need to release male herds out of the sanctuary into the larger Ishaqbini Conservancy in order to further boost our conservation efforts,” said Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy manager, Ahmed Noor. 

Besides hosting the endangered antelope, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy is also home to reticulated giraffe, warthog, lesser kudu, gerenuk, ostrich and even a unique herd of largely maneless plains zebra. 

The collaring of the hirola antelope is a partnership between the conservancy, NRT, KWS and Garissa county government, funded by San Diego Zoo Global, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Disney Conservation, USAID, Sidekick Foundation, New Mexico Community Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Tusk Trust, Embassy of Denmark through DANIDA, David Cotton, Saint Louis Zoo, World Wide Fund and Indianapolis.

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