In 1895, only 20 white rhinos were left in South Africa due to massive poaching.
Today, South Africa is home to 20,000 rhinos, the largest concentration of this endangered species in the world.
It is proof that targeted conservation can bear positive results.
The world’s leading biologists and ecologists have intimated that one in five animal species on earth now faces extinction, with the figures expected to rise to 50 per cent by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken.
According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016, the world’s leading, science-based look at the health of our planet, we are on course to experience a 67 per cent decline by 2020 in the global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles compared to the 1970 numbers.
Threatened creatures such as the rhino might make the headlines, but little attention is paid to the less known animals.
The critically endangered mountain bongo is one such animal.
Kenyans born around Mt Elgon, Mt Kenya and parts of Rift Valley in the early 80s might recall having seen the gracious antelopes.
Considered the most beautiful antelopes, bongos are only found in Kenya in their natural habitat, and there are only 100 left in the wild.
The population has dipped in the past 50 years primarily due to unrestricted hunting, poaching, loss of habitat, illegal logging in forests and diseases such as rinderpest, which is thought to have drastically cut their numbers in the 1890s and early 1900s.
It is now listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Efforts to rehabilitate the mountain bongo began a decade ago.
A repatriation and breeding programme began in 2004 when 13 zoos and conservation organisations in the United States partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and the United Nations to start repopulating the endangered antelope.
Eighteen captive-bred bongos were flown to the Mount Kenya Game Ranch to join another 16.
Barely a month ago, four births were recorded at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC), renewing hope in the survival of the 100 rare mountain bongo antelopes, whose number worldwide is below the threshold of 250 required to make a genetically stable population.
Today, MKWC holds the world’s largest herd of mountain bongos at 72.
The conservancy breeds reintroduction into their natural habitat.
A breeding programme with the aim of increasing the number of these animals is run by the MKWC, the fundraising arm of the ranch.
The 68 bongos live on 130 acres, divided into 14 paddocks.
Despite these diligent conservation efforts, we need to do more!
MKWC has taken an integrated approach to providing Kenya with healthy and genetically diverse mountain bongo herds that can fend for themselves in the wild.
The conservancy has engaged communities in the mountain ranges to monitor the antelope and identify any anomalies.
This model has transcended the community engagement into school curriculums as the need for conservation knowledge from a young age becomes critical.
Partnerships with the National Bongo Task Force, the KWS and the Kenya Forestry Service have also boosted the progress being made to raise the population of the antelopes.
However, the bigger responsibility for conservation lies with the citizens.
Human activities have interfered with animals’ natural habitats and hampered conservation.
Steady population growth is putting pressure on some of Kenya’s pristine wild habitats.
The search for timber, food and fuel, especially logging and charcoal burning, have dealt a deadly blow to the once virgin wild habitats.
Our natural resources are our heritage; we owe our children the commitment to protecting their legacy against destruction.
We must ensure the survival and the continuation of every species.
Our children must be educated to aspire beyond the instant gratification that poaching or deforestation bring.
Through the MKWC’s extensive education programme and partnerships, we hope to step up the awareness of the mountain bongo preservation, increase their numbers and most importantly, secure their natural habitat.
We are calling on other Kenyans to join the conservation cause so that we can save the animals from extinction.
No small effort goes to waste.
It all counts when we come together!
Mr Bunge is the conservancy manager at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy. [email protected]