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Kenya Mountain Bongos Mountain bongos on verge of extinction

Female bongos (antelope) are seen at the wildlife park "Monde Sauvage" in Aywaille, on July 31, 2018.   -  
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JOHN THYS/AFP or licensors


These sparse plains in Nanyuki, Kenya are home to the mountain bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus ssp. isaaci).

Characterized by stripes that don their bodies, the mountain bongo is a type of antelope. There are currently less than 100 left in the wild today.

A sub species of Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus) they are found in dense forests of central Africa and cohabit in small groups.

Here at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, where mountain bongo come to be fed, efforts are underway to increase this number.

The conservancy provides them with the medication and vaccinations they may require.

Robert Aruho is Head of Conservancy at the facility.

He says the numbers of mountain bongos started to decline after the 1950s, when they began to be poached for their meat.

"We are focusing on the mountain bongo simply because these species before 1950s, these species were available and abundant across this range which is Mt.Kenya mountain ranges and also the Aberdares mountains but after 1950s these species started going through a very steady decline, and this was largely attributed to poaching because a bongo is a very big animal, so a poacher killing one will really get a reward for the meat and also the skin and the trophy. And then they would also capture for export so live trade of the animals and then diseases like rinderpest which attacked this country in the early 19th century so that caused the animal numbers to reduce and that notwithstanding the issue of habitat loss."

Exports of the mountain bongo also became more commonplace.

"The last national wildlife census, they verified that there are less that 96 bongos left in the wild and that is very alarming because if you put that into perspective you are having rhinos which are almost now 80 times the number of bongos we have here," Aruho explains.

Some were taken to zoos overseas, and efforts to save the animals have hinged on returning them to Kenya.

There were only 18 of these shy creatures left in captivity in the U.S.

In 2004, all 18 were repatriated to Kenya to begin the process of breeding them and re-establishing the Mountain Bongo in their natural territory.

But it has been a slow process.

In a bid to boost the recovery of the species in the wild, government agency, Kenya Wildlife Service, in conjunction with Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, launched the Mawingu Bongo Sanctuary as part of the National Mountain Bongo Recovery and Action Plan 2019-2023.

The sanctuary is an 800-acre indigenous forest area located on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

On March 9, for first time ever, 5 mountain bongos will be released from the conversancy to the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary.

This will help the breeding programme and the rewilding of the animal, as well as reintroducing them into their original habitats, such as Ragati, Eburu, Mau and Aberdare forests.

Currently, the Conservancy holds around 63 mountain bongos.

Reversing extinction is costly and difficult.

But it's vital something is done as extinction alters ecosystems which ultimately could damage the environment.

"When they reach a point where we must come in to assist them to recover, the price we will pay in terms of financial resources, human resources is very, very big and sometimes we are not ready to pay that price," says Aruho.

Rewilding the mountain bongos is easier said than done.

With forests in Kenya's highlands rapidly disappearing due to illegal logging and growing human populations, the bongo's habitat is also shrinking.