The Battle for the Mountain Bongo's Survival

By Gilbert Manirakiza

It takes a village to save a mountain bongo! 

It is no mean feat to save the Mountain Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci), the largest of the forest antelopes that can only be found in the central highlands of Kenya. 

In 1964, Don Hunt, the then-manager of the Mount Kenya Game Ranch, alerted the government that the population of Bongos had declined so severely that they were on the brink of extinction, mainly owing to a number of factors, including habitat degradation, hunting, slow breeding, and diseases. Hunt secured permission to send 10 bongos to the United States for purposes of conservation. 

This would prove to be a wise decision as, by 2004, the population had nearly been wiped out, with a mere 18 individuals remaining at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC). This same year, Humphrey Kariuki, a successful entrepreneur who hails from this same region, became aware that the beautiful and mischievous striped Bongos he grew up seeing around his village may cease to exist. He stepped in as one of the key sponsors, providing full support to MKWC to repatriate 18 mountain bongos from the United States to Kenya and launch a programme aimed at nursing the bongos back to a vibrant population. However, I doubt that even he, at the time, had a precise idea of how daunting this task would prove to be.

The Complexities of Bongo Breeding and Conservation

Non-veterinarians may mistakenly believe that restoring an antelope species' population simply involves breeding them. It’s more complicated than that. First, bongos instinctively slow down their breeding when they are in captivity or when their habitats are threatened. Secondly, a lack of genetic diversity in captivity conditions can also weaken the stock and make them vulnerable to illnesses. 

In 2020, the small bongo population was divided into herds and gradually moved into the forest paddocks to begin the rewilding process aimed at priming them to survive in the wild. Over the past two decades, this initiative has made remarkable progress. In 2019, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and the MKWC leased the MKWC a total of 776 acres within Mount Kenya for the purpose of creating the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary. Every six months, five individual bongos are selected for translocation into the sanctuary from the offspring of the breeding herds. It has been noted that breeding has accelerated within the sanctuary, thereby accelerating the achievement of the goal of reaching 100 individuals in the short term and 550 by 2050. 

The Global Importance of Bongo Conservation Effort

The preservation of the habitats of the bongos has prompted various stakeholders to work together to conserve regional forests, which also includes reforesting certain degraded areas. This directly contributes to climate change mitigation by expanding forest cover. Nationally, this is all the more critical, given that Mount Kenya Forest is an important water catchment tower that provides over 50% of the fresh water needs for the country and 70% of the water required for hydroelectric power generation.

Further, unique wildlife species are an important tourist attraction, which also supports local job creation in key sectors such as hospitality, entertainment, transportation and agriculture. Therefore, a thorough economic analysis is necessary to determine how to optimize sustainability-led investments for driving economic and social development.


CEO of Newmark Group Limited


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