Rare antelopes to be flown from US in bid to boost their numbers

A mountain bongo. From about 500 in the 1970s, mountain bongos now number less than 100. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard] 

Once upon a time, hundreds of mountain bongos roamed Mt Kenya Forest.

But local communities decimated their numbers drastically through massive hunting.

In the words of Buuri MP Mugambi Rindikiri, people did not understand their importance.

“In 1970s, we had about 500 mountain bongos. Today, we have less than 100. They are only found in the Mt Kenya ecosystem, in Aberdares and in Mau ecosystem,” said Julius Kamau, the Chief Conservator of Forests at the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

But this about to change, says Kamau, with 25 of them set to be flown in from the US this year to help populate the forest once again.

“It is a pristine area where we believe we are going to conserve our bongos and our rhinos,” he added, urging the local community to play their role of protecting the forest.

“The government has a strategy by KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) on the recovery. They have identified the bongo as an endangered species that we must do everything to recover,” Kamau said.

The conservator said the aim was to increase the number of bongo from the current 99 to 750 or more by 2050.

“I am very sure with this kind of initiative it is possible, perhaps to surpass that number”.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza during a groundbreaking for the new mountain bongo and black rhino sanctuary in Mt Kenya Forest at Buuri, Meru. [File, Standard]

Kamau and Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza led stakeholders to unveil a new sanctuary to host the bongos and black rhinos at Mucheene-Ntirimiti-Marania area early this year.

It is being spearheaded by the Meru Bongo and Rhino Conservation Trust in partnership with KFS, KWS, Lewa Conservancy, Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, Florida International University’s Tropical Conservation Institute and local community forest associations.

“We want to build a sanctuary that will facilitate us to host and breed the bongo, a critically endangered species, in the first phase. The second phase will involve the black rhino. It is a plan which will the recovery of the endangered species,” said the trust’s chairman John Kinoti from Lewa Conservancy.

He said the bongos, expected in November, will live in a section of 250 acres of the forest issued by KFS.

“We are going to start with 25 bongos, 20 of them female, so that when they come they will multiply. There are only 99 bongos left in Kenya, meaning if we do not put in the efforts to breed more future generations will not see this species,” Kinoti said.

 Kawira said the private-public partnership will boost tourism.

“This project will bring development to our people in terms of education, water, health, tourism among many other benefits,” she said.

Though the bongos had been scheduled to be flown in late last year, there were delays in logistics and obtaining relevant special use licences. Once they breed, the first offspring will be named ‘Kawira’ if it is female and ‘Kamau’, if it is male!