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Bongo Repatriation to Mount Kenya Project

Bongo The Mount Kenya Game Ranch/Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC) is a significant link in the world-wide network of conservation organizations.  It is home to some 28 species – around 1,500 animals – all of which, until recently, were the progeny of the individuals and small family groups rescued from threatened wildlife range and forest areas under the direction of the Kenya government in the seventies and eighties.  (Mount Kenya has been recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage site.)  A breeding herd of the rare mountain (eastern) bongo, thought to be extinct on Mount Kenya, was formed as part of a program to return the species to the wild, and is now managed by the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.  This program has become emblematic for the Conservancy.
In early 2004, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) donated 18 captive born bongos to the Bongo Repatriation to Mount Kenya Project.  One of these was a male born at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Bongos with CalfBy March 2007, three years after the arrival of the American bongos, the herd had grown with 14 successful births.  At that point, the total number of bongo in the Conservancy’s herd stood at 38 animals.  Round the clock supervision of the “American” bongo breeding group continued.  In May 2007, the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy welcomed its first second generation bongo born to the American herd.

A “bachelor” herd of males had then been in the Conservancy’s wild mountain forest area for some time.  There they encountered the types of vegetation growing over their former natural range on Mount Kenya.  Other forest animals such as leopard, buffalo, and elephant were known to visit.  The bachelor group, although monitored, was left to care for themselves, and would rarely see a human being.  This male group has appeared to do very well.

The current (2009) bongo population at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy numbers over 60 animals.  Twelve bongos have been acclimated for pre-release in the Forest Sanctuary, which is approximately 100 acres and is fenced.  The Sanctuary is used as a pre-release acclimation area where little to no human interaction with the bongo is permitted.  The majority of the American bongo herd is managed in a fenced part of the Conservancy on the high ground above the Forest Sanctuary.

Bongo with Transmitter on horn In November 2007 and into 2008 a horn mounted satellite transmitter, provided by the International Bongo Foundation (IBF), was tested on one of the male bongo in the Forest Sanctuary.  Since that test modifications have been developed to improve the transmitter body and antenna.  Typically wildlife tracking transmitters have been attached to land mammals via a collar.  Due to the dense vegetation in the forests of Mount Kenya it was thought that the standard transmitter collar could prove to be hazardous to a bongo antelope.  The horn mounted version would allow the bongo to move through freely and safely the forest undergrowth.

Bongo RepatriationAlso in November of 2007, MKWC and IBF staff met with Kenya Wildlife Service officials in Nairobi to discuss the development of a pre-release site on Mount Kenya’s slopes.  From this meeting emerged the National Bongo Conservation Task Force, to focus on bongo conservation in Kenya.

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy’s Bongo Repatriation program was named amongst the three most important wildlife projects worldwide in 2006 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

For more information check: http://animalorphanagekenya.org/bongo_repatriation.php; http://www.internationalbongofoundation.org; and http://www.antelopetag.com.