Our Story

How it all began

How it all began

The Conservancy's pioneering work dates back to 1964 when the Government of Kenya expressed a growing concern for the dwindling Mountain Bongo numbers in Mount Kenya and Aberdares. Don Hunt, the then Director of Mount Kenya Game Ranch and founder of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, proposed to the Government of Kenya that they should send some Mountain Bongos to American zoos as ‘insurance’ for the species so that if the situation in the wild became dire, the Mountain Bongos would not become extinct but could be returned when the conditions were right.

Based on this proposal, the Government granted him permission to export 36 Mountain Bongos to the USA. The Mountain Bongos bred successfully and became the founder animals that we see across the zoos in the United States.

Establishment of the Conservancy

When the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy was established in 2004, 18 Mountain Bongos were repatriated from the USA to start off the Bongo Breeding and Rewilding program. One of the greatest achievements in the 20-year history of the Conservancy was the opening of the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary in the March 2022. The Sanctuary is Kenya's (and the world's) first Mountain Bongo Sanctuary and is located at the foothills of Mount Kenya. Ten (10) Mountain Bongos were released into this Sanctuary in its first year. Today, following the birth of three calves in this 776-acre Sanctuary, there are 13 Bongos, providing full proof of concept that rewilding the Mountain Bongo in Kenya is not just a possibility but a reality.


Two young Americans, film actor William (Bill) Holden and TV personality Don Hunt, met in Kenya beginning a lifelong friendship. The following year in 1965, Bill and Don joined forces with Julian McKeand, a game warden, and Iris Hunt, a German born enthusiast of Africa and art. As a group they followed a shared passion to protect and conserve some of Africa‘s most beautiful wildlife.

1965 - 1967

The group of four found a pristine 1,216-acre farm at the foothills of Mount Kenya that they bought off Jim and Betty-Anne Nicholson, an elderly couple looking to retire. It is here that Mount Kenya Game Ranch was founded. They agreed to Don‘s idea for the concept of their logo, which symbolized the core purpose of the project. It featured the elusive Bongo of Mount Kenya and the Aberdare forests – the rarest, most threatened and, some say, most beautiful of the African antelopes.

Late 1960s

Between 1968-1969, studies in the Aberdares and on Mount Kenya indicated a decreasing population of the Mountain Bongo. As illegal poaching increased, so followed the growing number of orphaned animals. In 1969, Iris Hunt established a permanent home for these animals, the Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage.


In partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Services and scientists from the United States, the Mount Kenya Game Ranch began to assist in capturing wildlife for restocking programs ensuring the survival of species despite illegal poaching. One of these species was the Mountain Bongo. The team planned and organized the capture of a small group of Bongos which were sent to zoos in the United States to ensure the survival of the species in the event it were to go extinct on Mount Kenya.


The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy was formed as a Kenyan non-profit trust, with three pillars namely: The Animal Orphanage, the Mountain Bongo breeding and rewilding program, and the Conservation Education program. The founder trustees were: Don Hunt, Iris Hunt, Julian McKeand and Paul Ndung'u. This is also the year that the first Mountain Bongo were repatriated from zoos across North America.


The American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) named the Mountain Bongo repatriation project among the world‘s top 3 most successful conservation projects of the year 2006.


Mr. Humphrey Kariuki, who has had a lifelong passion for wildlife and a long history of supporting conservation efforts in Kenya became the principal benefactor of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy. Through his philanthropy, he is investing in the protection and preservation of Africa's diverse wildlife.


The National Recovery and Action Plan for the Mountain Bongo was launched by the then Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Hon. Najib Balala at Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy with the goal of growing the Mountain Bongo population to 750 in the next 50 years, by prescribing specific actions aimed at addressing the threats facing the species.


The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) board of directors licensed 776 acres of forest land for the establishment of a Mountain Bongo Sanctuary showing their dedication and commitment to working together with MKWC and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to ensure the Mountain Bongo is saved from the brink of extinction.


The first five Mountain Bongos were released into the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary, which was opened with a ceremonious ribbon cutting. The first-ever Mountain Bongo sanctuary in Africa and the world, marked a historic milestone in the fight for the animal‘s survival.


Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and the Kenya Space Agency signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) to harness the power of geospatial technologies for the conservation of the critically endangered Mountain Bongo.


In this year, the Conservancy got IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) membership, joining more than 1,400 member organizations from over 160 countries making a difference in the natural world.