Mountain Bongo Breeding
The Mountain Bongo is a critically endangered Tragelaphus Antelope subspecies endemic to the Aberdare, Mount Kenya, Eburu and the Mau forests in Kenya.
This rare and most beautiful Kenyan antelope is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Categories and criteria of species at high risk of global extinction and has seen its population decline due to unrestricted hunting, poaching, habitat loss, and diseases. According to the recent National Wildlife Census in Kenya, approximately less than 100 Mountain Bongos are left in the wild. IUCN predicts that this number is likely to continue declining unless deliberate actions to address the threats are put in place. This, therefore, calls for consorted hastened efforts to reinforce the wild population before it is too late.
Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy took on the daunting challenge of reversing this impending extinction of the Mountain Bongo in 2004 and started the breeding and rewilding program of the Mountain bongo in Kenya. 18 Mountain Bongo were repatriated from several zoos across North America as a first step. These originally human habituated Mountain Bongos have gone through a series of adaptations to the local conditions of Kenya. They have bred successfully, thus establishing themselves as the
hope population recovery for the Mountain Bongo. It may not be practically feasible to increase the population in the wild through improved protected area management only. This must be done together with ex-situ breeding and reintroduction within local conditions to raise enough numbers to assist the wild populations to recover. For this reason, in 2014, we introduced the Mountain Bongos to a pristine forest environment to rebuild their wild instincts resulting in a significant positive upturn for the breeding program.
To date, all Mountain Bongos are in wild forest areas, and their instincts are progressively rebuilding. For example, calving is very secretive, protection of the young can be seen through aggression to any approaching intruder, and the animals forage on their own with minimal nutritional supplementation, especially in dry seasons where there is less browse abundance.
In 2020, the Mountain Bongo population was divided into herds and gradually moved into the forest paddocks to begin rewilding to prime them to survive in the wild. To date, six herds have been created, of which four are breeding herds composed of females, one breeding bull and young Bongos born in that herd. There are also two bachelor herds comprising males of various ages. Breeding has been successful, and the Mountain bongo numbers at MKWC continue to rise. Currently, Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy hosts 63 Mountain Bongos.
Mountain Bongo Rewilding
The long-term vision of the Government of Kenya's National Recovery and Action Plan (2019-2023) for the Mountain Bongo is to achieve a population of 750 individuals in Kenya by the year 2050. The opening of the Sanctuary represents a significant step towards achieving this vision.
In proud partnership with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy has led a breeding and rewilding programme that has taken nearly 20 years to bring the Mountain Bongo back into the wild. The Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary, a 776-acre pristine natural forest set at the foothills of Mount Kenya, provides a more extensive area to continue rewilding the Mountain Bongo in preparation for survival in the wild. It is the first-ever Mountain Bongo Sanctuary in Africa and the world.
With the Sanctuary now operational in 2022, Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, KWS and partners will have facilities to complete Mountain Bongo reintroduction end-to-end. This implies that breeding and rewilding of the Mountain Bongo will continue to be done concurrently, thus creating a stream of candidates to reinforce wild bongo populations and reintroduce them into the historical ranges.
The first five Mountain Bongos released into the Sanctuary were already primed for that environment. Every subsequent year, an additional 10 Mountain Bongos will be translocated into the Sanctuary in groups of 5 every six months. Individual Mountain Bongos to join the Sanctuary will be selected offspring from the breeding herds and allowed to roam and mate randomly. We estimate that by 2025, the Sanctuary will have 50-70 fully rewilded Mountain Bongos.
The aim of the Mountain Bongo breeding and the rewilding programme is to have individuals that are fully rewilded and therefore competent to survive in the Sanctuary and eventually the wild. Total weaning from human dependence is a gradual process requiring technical skill, patience, and commitment to allow the animals to adapt independently. This requires spaces with every vital component for their survival: an appropriate habitat, foliage, and enough space to exhibit normal behaviour and fully accommodate natural selection.
The Mountain Bongos born in the programme, which are successfully rewilded, will be provided to KWS for translocation to reinforce the wild populations and reintroduce them in the former ranges.