WILL THE BONGO GO THE DODO WAY?

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Among the most beautiful of antelopes is the Bongo , currently listed as critically endangered. There are two currently recognized subspecies , the mountain or eastern bongo and the lowland or western bongo. This antelope is the largest, heaviest, and most colorful African forest antelope weighing between 225 to 410 kilograms with a gestation period of 9 months and a lifespan of  21 years in captivity and no data given for lifespan in the wild. It has a chestnut coat with 10 to 15 vertical whitish-yellow stripes running down its sides . Young bongos are vulnerable to pythons, leopards, and hyenas. Lions have also been reported to kill bongos.

The largest forest antelope are quite timid and are easily frightened. They will run away after a scare ,at considerable speed and seek cover, where they stand still and alert with their backs to the disturbance. Their hindquarters are less conspicuous than the forequarters, and from this position, the animal can quickly flee.

Females are usually more brightly colored than males. Both males and females have spiraled lyre-shaped horns. The large ears are believed to sharpen hearing, and the distinctive coloration may help bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats as well as aid in camouflage. They have no special secretion glands and so rely less on scent to find one another  like other similar antelopes do.

Like other antelopes, they are herbivorous browsers that feed on leaves, bushes, vines, bark, grasses, roots, cereals, shrubs, flowers, and fruits. They also require salt in their diet and will visit natural salt/mineral licks during the night. Adult males of a similar size or age seem to try to avoid one another. Even though they are relatively non-territorial, they will meet and spar with their horns in a ritualized manner. Sometimes, serious fights will take place but they are usually discouraged by visual displays, in which the males bulge their necks, roll their eyes, and hold their horns in a vertical position while slowly pacing back and forth in front of the other male. Younger mature males most often remain solitary, although they sometimes join up with an older male. They seek out females only at mating time. When they are with a herd of females, males do not coerce them or try to restrict their movements, as do other antelopes.

The Kenyan Mountain Bongo is a critically endangered sub-species, endemic to the Aberdare, Mount Kenya, Cherangany Hills and the Mau Forests Complex, with only a few individuals left in the Eburu, Maasai Mau and South Western Mau. The species has undergone
a drastic decline in all these forests with limited information on the exact number of animals.

The bongo’s range originally extended across the rainforests of Central Africa, from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory
Coast, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
In Kenya, there are isolated pockets hosting various meta-population and they include:
• The Aberdare ecosystem comprising the National Park and the forest reserves enclosing 2000 km2
within the completed fence. According to Lam (1997), bongo range within the Aberdare included
the northern salient and bamboo zone.
• Mt. Kenya where the Eastern side forests were the historically known areas and that is currently
being fenced to incorporate over 2,700 km2 of National Park, National Reserve and forest reserves
• Mau south west forest reserve and Mau Eburu Forest Reserve 87 km2
• Mt. Londiani, Chemorogok/Lembus adjacent forests and Cherangani hills – (little information is
available on the current population status).
In the last few decades there has been a rapid decline in numbers within the continent due to poaching
and human pressure on habitat (Ralls, 1978 and Estes, 1991). In Kenya, the population of bongo has been
on a downward trend and indeed in some of the ranges local extinction has been reported. These include
the Cherangani and Chepalungu hills.

Reversal of the bongo’s endangered status can only be attained if Habitat destruction is controlled and allowed to regenerate. African Governments in conjunction with conservation bodies should designate wildlife corridors , large swaths of land that bongos can use to roam freely and safely from one park, or country, to another. Corridors link protected areas and allow wildlife to follow rains or travel to their calving grounds without disturbing human settlements.

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