20 Years Of Taking Care Of The Endangered Mountain Bongo Antelope

by Business Watch Team

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is celebrating 20 years of conservation this year. The Conservancy has worked to protect endangered species and their habitats, with significant achievements. Focus has been on the endangered Mountain Bongo Antelope through a recovery and rewilding program which has been outstanding.

2024 marks 20 years since the importation of 18 Mountain Bongos acquired from several zoos across North America and received at Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC) in Nanyuki. This was the beginning and the hallmark of the breeding and rewilding program to create a robust population of Mountain Bongo in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service, with the support and instruction of the Kenyan Government.

The importation, which famously became well known as the Bongo Repatriation Project, was triggered by the worrying decline of this antelope in the wild whose population has since fallen to less than 100. These Bongos existed in severely fragmented geographic segments in Mount Kenya and Aberdares, which presented a limited opportunity for the species to recover naturally. The importation was therefore the bedrock and hallmark of the breeding and rewilding of the Mountain Bongo, whose success is noticeable to date.

The Conservancy’s pioneering work dates back to 1964 when the Government of Kenya expressed 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 permitted him to export 36 Bongos to the USA. These Bongos bred successfully and became the founder animals that we see across zoos in the United States.  When the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy was established in 2004, 18 Mountain Bongos were repatriated from the USA to kick off the Mountain Bongo breeding and rewilding program. These originally human-habituated Mountain Bongos have gone through a series of adaptations to the local conditions of Kenya and have bred successfully establishing themselves as the founders and hope for population recovery of this critically endangered antelope. ​

One of the greatest achievements in the 20-year history of the Conservancy was the opening of the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary in 2022. This is Kenya’s and the world’s first Mountain Bongo Sanctuary and is located at the foothills of Mount Kenya.

“10 Mountain Bongos were released in this Sanctuary in its first year. Today, following the birth of three calves in this 776-acre natural forest Sanctuary, there are a total of 13 Mountain Bongos, providing full proof of concept that rewilding the Mountain Bongo in Kenya is not just a possibility but a reality,” notes Dr. Robert Aruho, Head of Conservancy at MKWC.

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