Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 53 – The Hirola Antelope

Hirola, in the wild, looking at camera

Photographer: Unknown

Hirola is the Somali name for this antelope. Originally it was known as Hunter’s antelope following it’s discovery in 1887 by big game hunter, H. C. V. Hunter.  It is highly recognisable by its facial appearance.  Not only does it look as though it is wearing spectacles with white frames, it also has the distinction of having large pre-orbital glands which give the impression of having two sets of eyes.

Like all antelope, the hirola belongs to the family Bovidae, which includes cattle, bison, buffalo, goats and sheep.  And also, like most antelope, it has been mercilessly hunted. Hunting has been banned in Kenya since 1997, but the butchery continues.

Despite the ban, there has been a dramatic drop in population since the eighties. Recorded then as being fourteen thousand strong, there are now only five hundred hirola left in the wild. In Somalia they have ceased to exist altogether.

Resembling a cross between an impala and a hartebeest, the hirola can reach a height of forty-nine inches at the shoulder, and weigh up to two hundred and fifty pounds.  Head to tail, they can measure almost six feet and six inches.  Both sexes have long, thin, curved horns; growing to twenty-eight inches and having bold, dark rings around them.  The overall body colour is a sort of pale buff, with darker legs. There is a white band across the eyes.  The tail is white with a black and white tip.

They feed early morning and early evening, and can survive well without water for long periods of time.  Herds range from fifteen to forty individuals, but occasionally this number can be much larger.

There exists a system whereby dominant, polygamous males defend a selected harem of seven to eight females and their young.  The breeding season is March to April, followed by a gestation period of seven to eight months.  Females leave the herd to birth their calves and continue to stay away for a further two weeks.  Single calves are born in October to November and will be able to stand almost immediately.  Unfortunately, both mothers and calves become vulnerable to predators during this time.

Semi-arid, grassy plains and lush savannah grassland, amidst dry acacia scrub and coastal forests.
Kenya  (close to the Somalia border)
What they eat
Freshly sprouting, short grasses  (they tend to avoid longer grasses)  and sometimes forbs.
Habitat loss, disease, drought, and competition with livestock are all considerable threats to the hirola.  Natural predators are plentiful too;  lion, hunting dogs and cheetah roam freely.   And, hyenas and eagles are known to prey upon the newborns before mother and baby have the chance to safely rejoin the herd.  Then, as always, there is the human predator. Poachers (hunters) are usually local herdsmen, tourists or military personnel.
Status: Critically Endangered
There are an estimated five hundred hirola antelope  (Beatragus hunteri)  left in the wild. The species is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  The hirola share the land with the pastoral Abdullah Clan of Somalian origin. These peoples have been working with the various non-profit conservation agencies to assist in the protection of the hirola.  Indeed, they are crucial to the project.  Both funding and knowledge have been provided and the project is working well.  [1]  If the issue of hunting by other parties could be addressed successfully, this species may have a chance of survival.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world”
Mahatma Gandhi

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