“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
With their soft eyes, astonishingly beautiful coats and those magnificent horns, these highly sociable forest antelopes are a stunning vision. Bongos, in general, are fairly plentiful across west Africa. But, the critically endangered sub-species, isaaci, is only found in the mountains of central Kenya. As you would expect, deforestation and hunting (including so-called ‘trophy hunting‘) have played a major part in its decline. The numbers kept in captivity, now outweigh the numbers left in the wild by almost seven to one.
The mountain bongo may look a lot like its cousin, the western bongo, but, in fact, it is heavier, taller and more richly coloured. Adult mountain bongos stand at over four feet at the shoulder, and can be as much as an astonishing ten and a half feet in length. Males can weigh up to almost nine hundred pounds, and females, just over five hundred pounds.
Mountain bongos, or eastern bongos as they are sometimes called, have beautiful coats of deep-chestnut with vertical white stripes. Their muzzles are black with a white band across the nose and under the eyes, and their legs are dark in colour with patches of white. Further white markings occur on the chest. Like the okapi, the disruptive colouration of their coats helps to camouflage them in the forest.
Another notable feature of the bongo are the heavy, but elegant, spiral horns. Both male and female sport these, with the female’s being slightly smaller and paler. These horns can be used to break branches allowing their long prehensile tongues to strip the same with ease.
Unfortunately, these spectacular horns have been a contributing factor in their downfall. It is always wonderful how nature equips different species with these various adaptations for their survival. But, wonderful turns to tragic when man comes along and ends that chance of survival because he sees that which belongs to another as his, and his right to possess; to satisfy his unquenchable greed and lust for death.
Bongos are outgoing and non-territorial, but they are also shy and wary. They live in mixed herds of up to fifty individuals, though smaller herds are more likely. They forage mostly under cover of the dense forest, but can be tempted out into clearings and swamps if the pickings look good enough. Although mostly nocturnal, they are occasionally active during the day.
Distressed bongos bleat and mothers have a special low mooing call for their calves. Otherwise their vocalisations are fairly limited.
The peak breeding season for bongo antelope occurs between October and January. Following a gestation period of nine and a half months, a single calf will be born. Females give birth in dense undergrowth where they can hide their babies from predators. The mother will leave the calf alone for the first week, returning only to let the calf suckle. By the time it is two weeks old, it will be racing round and ready to join the nursery herd. Bongo calves are fast developers and will have the first signs of horns at three to four months of age. They are weaned at six months and fully mature at two years.
Dense montane forests and bamboo thickets.
The central Kenyan highlands – restricted to Aberdare’s Conservation Area, the Mau Forest and Mount Kenya National Park.
What they eat
Leaves, shrubs, pith and bark of fallen dead trees, grasses and fruits.
Habitat loss due to illegal logging and charcoal production, poaching with snares and dogs, and diseases such as rinderpest. The mountain bongo are poached for their pelts and horns, and bushmeat to feed the ever-growing population. Natural predators include leopard and spotted hyena. Pythons have been known to eat calves. Bongo, in general, are considered a prize target for big-game trophy hunters, which in the past has devastated local populations of mountain bongo.
Status: Critically Endangered
The mountain bongo, or eastern bongo, (Tragelaphus eurycerus ssp. isaaci), is listed on the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group as Critically Endangered. It is thought there are now no more than one hundred of the species left in the wild, possibly as few as seventy-five. In 2012, six hundred and seventy-seven were recorded as kept in captivity around the globe. All captive bongo stem from the wild population captured from the Aberdere Mountains area in the 1970s.
“In 2000, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the USA (AZA) upgraded the bongo to a Species Survival Plan participant and in 2006 named the Bongo Restoration to Mount Kenya Project to its list of the Top Ten Wildlife Conservation Success Stories of the year. However, in 2013, it seems, these successes have been negated with reports of possibly only 100 mountain bongos left in the wild due to logging and poaching.” (Wikipedia) Although zoos are not the best option for wildlife, it seems, in this case, they may well be the saving of the mountain bongo. With so few left in the wild, the species might otherwise be lost to us.
Bongo Surveillance Project A village is rewarded with solar power to say ‘thank you’ for hosting the mountain bongo.
UAE’s bid to save the Eastern Bongo from extinction
EASTERN BONGO (TRAGELAPHUS EURYCERUS ISAACI) CAPTIVE POPULATION AND CONSERVATION