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

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 46 – The African Wild Ass

Somali  wild ass and foal

Source: Zooborns

The African wild ass is a highly endangered equidae.  Numbers have decreased by ninety per cent in the past two decades.  And, like so many other poor unfortunates, the wild ass is hunted for, here we go again, traditional medicine.  Amongst other things, its bones are boiled up to make a cure-all soup for the heartless and ill-informed.

The ancestor of all domestic donkeys, the species was domesticated about six thousand years ago.  It’s hard to enter any country without seeing a domesticated donkey somewhere, yet only a few hundred of their wild ancestors are still in existence.

African wild asses have a smooth coat, which varies from light grey to fawn becoming white on the undersides and legs.  Most have a dark stripe along the back and the Somalian subspecies has black horizontal stripes on its legs.  They all have a stiff, upright mane.  They can reach a height of five and a half feet  (16.2)  at the shoulder and are about six and a half feet in length.

The species is crepuscular, feeding during twilight hours when the temperatures are lower.  The day is spend resting in the shade of the rocky hills.  They are fast and sure-footed over the rough terrain, and can reach speeds of up to thirty miles per hour.

Although well-adapted to the arid climate, they do need surface water.  Most stay permanently within twenty miles of water.  Moisture is extracted from the vegetation they consume.  They can survive with very little liquid, but need to drink at least once every three days, and lactating females need to drink every day.  Therefore a surface water supply is essential to them.  Unfortunately, access to water (and food) is often limited due to competition with livestock.

African wild asses live in small herds, typically consisting of fewer than five animals.  Only the mother and her foal form long-term relationships.  Following mating, the gestation period is relatively long; eleven to twelve months.  Usually, only one foal is born.  The foal will be weaned at six to eight months, and reach sexual maturity at two years.

Rocky deserts, arid and semi-arid bushlands and grasslands, where there is access to surface water.
Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
What they eat
Grasses, bark and leaves.
Hunting for food and traditional medicine.  Competition from domestic livestock for food and water supplies.  Interbreeding between wild and domestic donkeys, resulting in hybridisation.
Status: Critically Endangered
The African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  Fewer than five hundred and seventy individuals are thought to still exist, the least number being in Somalia.  The species is protected by law in Somalia and Ethiopia, but, these laws are difficult to enforce and illegal hunting still goes on.  The use of automatic weapons is common in some areas.
African wild asses are kept in captivity around the world and breeding programs do exist. These have been very successful and births have occurred.  Indeed, the image above portrays a foal named Hakaba, born in 2010 at the Basel Zoo, Switzerland.  It is unclear, though, whether any of these animals will ever be returned to their natural environment.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”