Bio Facts: Bongo, Eastern
Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci
Central and West Kenya
forest through the bamboo and moorland areas of Kenya at 6800 – 10,000 feet above sea level
The largest rain forest antelope, the Bongo is bright chestnut with 12 to 14 vertical white stripes between the base of the neck and the rump. Neck and chest may be darker. Old males may be almost black. Large white chest crescent and cheek patches and ear edges also white. Bongos have a broad nose chevron and legs banded in white and black. Height: 3.9 to 4.2 feet at the shoulder; weight: males – 529 to 890 lbs., females – 462 to 560 lbs. Average newborn weight is approximately 43 lbs. Coat color is similar to parents but lighter. Ears are enormous. Both sexes have horns. Average length is 25 inches; the largest were 39.5 inches. Each horn has one spiral, is ivory tipped and male horns are more massive than females.
Up to 15 years
Approximately 2+ years
Leaves, shoots, flowers, twigs of shrubs and vines, thistles and the flowering tops of rank succulents; in the Zoo, they are fed hay, browse, and grain
CITES III, IUCN – Endangered, AZA - SSP
Bongos are selective browsers, eating the high protein vegetation found in the forest. The canopy rain forest has too little vegetation at ground level. Bongos need forests with openings to sunlight to promote dense growth of bushes, herbs, creepers and bamboo for food and cover. Bongos have been known to raid plantations and abandoned gardens for yams, cocoa, cassava and sweet potato leaves.
Mainly nocturnal, bongo activity peaks at dawn and at dusk.
Bongos are gregarious and nonterritorial. Home ranges are undetermined but may be over 62 square miles. They move up and down on mountainsides seasonally. During the dry season (January-March and June – August) bongos can be found in higher elevations. During the wet season (April – May and September – December) they can be found at lower elevations.
Next to the eland, the bongo forms the largest herds of any of the Tragelaphine. Up to 50 in a group has been observed, however groups of 12 or more are considered rare. The largest groups form for several months after the peak calving season (July – September) when cows with calves have past the “hiding” stage. These nursery herds are led by a senior female and are often accompanied or trailed by a senior, black bull. Aggressive interactions and mutual grooming may be indicative of a hierarchy, but more studies are needed. Adult males are solitary. The bongo-mating peak in the Aberdere Mountains in Kenya occurs from October to January.
Births in the wild have been noted to occur in December or January. In captivity, births have been recorded in December, April and August. The estrous cycle occurs every 21 to 22 days and lasts approximately 3 days. Gestation periods are between 282 to 287 days. Two captive born females first conceived at 27 and 31 months respectively. Sexual maturity of females is not reached until well into their second year.
Predators: spotted hyenas and leopards, lions on the moorlands, and pythons prey on calves.
Bongos have a long, mobile tongue used as a feeding tool. Horns can also be used to break branches to reach nourishing leaves and shoots. Like other browsers, bongos can rear up on their back legs to forage overhead.
Massively built with short legs these animals are adapted to movement through vegetation. Clumsy and short winded in the open, bongos have the ability to disappear like magic in the forest. They will gallop into dense cover with their noses up and horns laid back.
Communication: Normally bongos are very quiet animals. Calves and courting bulls bleat with varying degrees of intensity. If in distress, bongos may bleat or moo loudly. Males grunt and snort. And, in captivity, males have been observed clicking their tongues with mouths closed during courtship.
Bongos can jump obstacles up to 5 feet high
Attilo Ghatti, an Italian explorer, found that the native peoples, especially the Pygmies of the Congo region, believe that bongo has magical powers and strange abilities:
It is able to hang from branches by its horns and drop on unsuspecting hunters in the forest;
It eats poisonous plants so its meat would not be edible to humans;
When pursued, the bongo dives underwater and stays there until the following dry season, losing its coat and feeding on fish.
The Zande people of the Sudan believe that if one touches a bongo he/she will get leprosy
The beliefs noted above had protected the bongo for decades, if not centuries. But, today many of these beliefs have been dispelled. Habitat destruction and poaching are now a constant threat to the bongo’s survival.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
Our first bongos arrived in January 1999. They have successfully bred here.