Mountain Bongo

Safeguarding valuable wildlife resources for current and future generations is one of the agenda for the Kenyan government today. Kenya’s wildlife population is in a decline, with an average loss of 68% over the last 40 years. There are 33 mammalian, 28 avian and 356 plant species in Kenya under threat. The wildlife species population losses are driven by a combination of factors including, climate and land use changes, habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, illegal trade, and human-wildlife conflict.

National Wildlife Strategy (NWS) 2030, aims at enhancing species protection and management through the conservation of endangered and threatened species. It provides for the development, adoption and implementation of policy guidelines on species specific conservation interventions including captive breeding, introduction, reintroductions, and translocations of the endangered species. The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013, Section 49 prescribes development and implementation of species specific recovery plans for all species listed in the sixth schedule such as the Mountain bongo

Mountain bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci) is an endangered tragelaphine antelope subspecies found wild only in Kenya. It is endemic to the Aberdare, Mount Kenya, Cheranganis Hills and the Mau Forests Complex. The mountain bongo has undergone a drastic decline in all these forests with limited information on the exact number of animals, though inferential figures stand at less than 100 individuals mainly confined to the Aberdare and Maasai Mau.

The Eastern or Mountain Bongo is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one the Critically Endangered species, with more individuals in captivity than in the wild. The decline in species population has been attributed to various reasons that include habitat fragmentation, poaching, predation, disease and other human induced factors.

The Kenyan government has developed a National Recovery and Action Plan for the Mountain Bongo. It was developed through a collaborative process involving a team of technical officers, conservation managers from governmental and nongovernmental organizations, community representatives amongst other stakeholders with the primary purpose of reversing the mountain bongo decline in Kenya. The strategy aims to re-establish a viable mountain bongo population in its native habitat. It recognizes the threats facing the species and provides guidance to efforts aimed at their conservation and management. This will be achieved through a set of objectives and activities outlined in the strategy that help address information generation and management; community Involvement; education and awareness; policy and law enforcement and coordination.

In 2003, bongo repatriation from the USA was initiated to establish a sustainable, in situ managed bongo
population at the Mt. Kenya Game Ranch (MKGR) from which multiple wild-population recovery strategies
could evolve. Eighteen mountain bongos (four male and 14 female) were repatriated from 14 zoos across the US. The principal objective of this project was to establish an in situ captive breeding program, in
a natural setting, as the first phase of several conservation steps required to reintroduce mountain bongos
to the wild. The project aimed to re-establish a viable and self-sustaining population in the bongo’s
native habitat. The repatriated bongos are have been in enclosures pending their proposed release into
the wild. Other conservation measures have been undertaken alongside the repatriation to conserve and
understand various biological aspects of the bongo in the wild.

The government has established Mawingu mountain bongo sanctuary. The pristine sanctuary consists of a natural forest. This provides an extensive range for continuous releasing of the mountain bongos in preparation for their survival in the wild.  Every year, 10 mountain bongos will be released into the sanctuary in groups of five every six months. It is estimated that by 2025, the sanctuary will have 50 to 70 fully wild mountain bongos.

Wildlife experts in Kenya predict that the long-term success of the release and eventual survival of the animals in the wild largely depends on local communities’ support in surrounding areas, because most of the threats that caused the population decline were human-driven.