Tuesday, December 2, 2014

World Most Endangered Antelope Population Grows

By Esther Nakkazi

Less than 240 Hirola, a type of antelope, are left in the world living along the Kenya-Somalia border. They are critically endangered and without immediate intervention they could go extinct, the first time a mammal would do so on mainland Africa in modern human history.

Hirolas are the last living representative of an evolutionary lineage that originated over three million years ago. They look like a child born to an impala and hartebeest, and have trademark white "spectacles."

In 2006, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy was established by Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), The Nature Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and partners banded together to establish the Ishaqbini Community Conservancy, to protect critically endangered Hirola.

Its the only Hirola sanctuary on the planet. It has a predator-proof fence.

It is also very much a part of the community, who tell regaling stories of helicopters manoeuvring through bushes and the gentleness of captured Hirola during translocation.

One community member, ‘a magical elder' mimics the hyena with red eyes and holes in his ears and grows the tail of a hyena calling them in order to catch them.

"This is powerful and entrenching and shows that the sanctuary indisputably belongs to the community and the stories are beyond any ‘conservation awareness’ we can do ourselves," said Dr. Juliet King, Science Advisor, Northern Rangelands Trust.

A recent survey showed that in less than three years 34 Hirola have been born, bringing the number of antelope protected from poaching and predators in the sanctuary to 78.

“A lot of people may not view 34 births in three years as significant, but with fewer than 240 Hirola left in the world we’re talking about the difference between survival and extinction,” said Matthew Brown, Africa Deputy Director, The Nature Conservancy.

The predator-proof sanctuary was built and 48 Hirola were successfully trans-located into the sanctuary in August 2012. The trans location effort was deemed an overwhelming success (there were no Hirola deaths during or immediately after the trans location.

The Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy where they live is home to Somali pastoralists who voluntarily established this dedicated area for Hirola, assisted with the trans location, and continue to play a crucial role. The people of Ishaqbini have been quietly conserving this landscape for centuries and regard the Hirola as a blessing says a press release.

Additionally, the other wild animals in the sanctuary like giraffes, zebras, kudu, gazelles, ostrich and many others are significantly multiplying. Elephants for the first time have made their way into the sanctuary, and there is now an elephant family of eight settled in their new secured habitat.

The project’s long-term goal is to release animals bred within the sanctuary back into the free-ranging population, ultimately building a viable population that is equipped to cope with natural levels of predation and competition.

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