Kenya has released the first group of mountain bongos into a sanctuary to save the rare forest antelopes from extinction in the wild.
The two males and three females were released near Mount Kenya. The country is the last place where the species is found in its native habitat. Fewer than 100 are believed to exist.
“Every subsequent year, an additional 10 mountain bongos will be translocated into the sanctuary in groups of five every six months,” Tourism Minister Najib Balala told the BBC.
The animals taken to the sanctuary are selected from breeding herds and allowed to roam and mate randomly in the sanctuary. Preparing the captive bongos for the wild has taken nearly 20 years.
As wild populations collapsed, conservationists in Kenya bred bongos with the aim of returning a select few to nature to give the vanishing antelopes a shot at survival. Officials hope to have 50 to 70 fully “rewilded” mountain bongos in the sanctuary by 2025.
This rewilding strategy is difficult. Captive bongos must be totally weaned off human contact.
The animals were a highly prized trophy for colonial-era hunters. In more recent years, the bongos have been threatened with habitat loss, diseases introduced by cattle and poaching for meat.
The last wild bongo sighting in the highlands around Mount Kenya — one of their historic rangelands, along with the Aberdares and the Eburu and Mau forests — was a carcass found in 1994. A decade later, with their extinction looming, some captive bongos were brought from zoos in the United States and placed in a rewilding program run by the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.