Category Archives: Bongo programme

Community Conservation: Local School Learns About Bongo Antelope

Kariki Primary School in Ndaragwa, Nyeri County, is one of the local schools that is near the Rhino Ark Aberdare electric fence. On 7 October, the school received educational posters and brochures from Rhino Ark about conservation of the Eastern Mountain Bongo antelope. The posters, produced by Rhino Ark, will help the students learn more about this critically endangered animal, which is found in the forests near the school: less than 100 are left in the wild, all in Kenya.

Kariki school receives posters from Rhino Ark
Kariki school receives posters from Rhino Ark

Greensteds School Gets Bongo Posters

Greensteds Staff and pupils receive posters from Rhino Ark

Greensteds Staff and pupils receive posters from Rhino Ark

Greensteds International School, based in Nakuru, is the most recent recipient of educational posters and brochures about the Eastern Mountain Bongo antelope. The materials were donated by Rhino Ark in recognition of Greensteds’ interest in supporting the conservation of Eburu Forest. Mt. Eburu is part of the Mau mountain range and, in the words of teacher Nick Martyn, “is in our own backyard”.

Greensteds are supporters of Rhino Ark, and they sponsored a Control in the 2010 Rhino Charge event. On 26th February 2011, students and staff of Greensteds held a successful relay run from Narok to Nakuru via the Mau to raise funds for sponsorship of a Control in the upcoming 2011 Rhino Charge.

The bongo posters and brochures were developed by Rhino Ark as educational tools under the Schools Wildlife Clubs component of the Bongo Surveillance Programme. They will help to educate Greensteds students about the critically endangered mountain bongo. Globally, there are less than 100 bongo believed to exist in the wild, and they are only found in Kenya. A small, highly threatened population of 7-12 animals has recently been observed in Eburu Forest, and this herd is believed to be the only one left there.

The poster and brochure donation marks the start of a more direct engagement in Rhino Ark’s conservation activities by the Greensteds community. The posters were presented by Rhino Ark Resource Development Manager Eric Kihiu, accompanied by Bongo Surveillance Programme Schools Wildlife Clubs coordinator, Peter Munene.

Guardians of the Mountain Bongo – Conservation by the Community

The Eastern Mountain Bongo (Tragelaphus euryceros Isaaci) is a rare antelope only found in Kenya. It is believed that fewer than 200 animals now survive in the wild, mostly in the dense forest areas of the upper Aberdare mountain range. A few animals are also found in Mt. Kenya and Eburu. The bongo is a shy, elusive creature that in recent times has only been sighted by a handful of people.

  bongo-trio-trap-camera-shot.jpg[Bongo picture taken by trap camera] 

72-year old Peter Mwangi is among the few living humans that have seen Bongo in the wild. Born into a poor family of hunter-gatherers living in the Aberdares, he was inducted into the forest life from early childhood. Following in the footsteps of his father, he learnt honey gathering and hunting game for meat in the misty forests of the Aberdares through the 1940’s. He perfected tracking wildlife from spoor, examining hoof prints, droppings and even how twigs had been chewed to determine which animal had passed.

  peter-mwangi.JPG[Peter Mwangi] 

In the 1950’s and 60’s Peter’s tracking skills kept him in gainful employment. He worked as a tracker for Tony Archer, a professional game hunter, and later on for Don Hunt who captured live bongo for export to foreign zoos. Between 1967 and 1978 he helped Don capture 27 bongo.

 

By the turn of the new millennium, a wind of change was blowing in local conservation circles. The population of bongo had been decimated by habitat loss, poaching and bush meat hunting. Realization had dawned that unless drastic steps were taken, these beautiful animals would be lost forever. There had been no reported sightings of bongo in years, and many wondered if any were even left.

 

By 2003 an initiative to protect the bongo had come into being. The Bongo Surveillance Programme was conceived by Mike Prettejohn, a former game hunter-turned conservationist. Mike recruited a team from amongst the local community with experience in wildlife tracking to carry out surveillance of bongo habitat to determine their population and range. This team became known as the Bongo Surveillance Unit. Through mutual acquaintance Tony Archer, Peter was introduced to Mike and joined the team.

 

Mike, the architect of the surveillance programme, determines possible bongo areas using aerial patrol, plots the GPS coordinates and plans the teams’ activities. The ground surveillance teams use Mike’s data in the forest. A typical bongo surveillance operation in the forest lasts about 2 weeks and involves a 5 to 6 man team accompanied, for security, by armed Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers. From an initial base camp they split into groups of 3 and patrol an area for 3-4 days. They collect data on bongo tracks, droppings, signs of poaching activity, sightings of poachers, illegal loggers and any other relevant information. They set up trap cameras at areas such as salt licks known to be visited by bongo, and download the images taken. Their findings are compiled, analysed and shared with KWS.

  trap-camera-chip.jpg[trap camera inspection and download] 

Through this initiative, supported by Rhino Ark and various local and international donors, a clearer picture has begun to emerge about the bongo population and range. The bongos’ excellent hearing and adeptness at hiding make them hard to spot, and most evidence of their presence is indirect, through spoor, droppings and trap camera pictures. Peter is one of the lucky few to have seen bongo up close. In 2004 he sighted a group of 14 bongo at Wandare in the north eastern Aberdares, and in July last year he saw a bongo cow and calf.

  patrol-with-ranger.jpg[BSU patrol on the move] 

I posed the question to Peter of what role the local communities play in conserving or endangering the bongo. He shared an anecdote on how the most skilled bongo poachers were men of his generation, people he knew personally, and most of whom have passed on or retired and have not passed on their ‘trade’ to their descendants. The constant presence of the surveillance team in the forest has also acted as a deterrent to poachers as the likelihood of discovery is much increased. The members of the team, some of whom may have otherwise turned to poaching are gainfully employed and now appreciate the importance of conservation. Peter observed that many young people in the local communities are not familiar with the bongo, but that the schools outreach component of the bongo programme was beginning to make a positive impact.

 

I asked Peter why he does this work. His reply was simple: it is what he knows, he’s good at it and it has helped him provide for his family. Two of his sons have followed in his footsteps and are now members of the team, so the family legacy carries on into the next generation. Though soft spoken and slight of build, Peter exudes the energy of someone half his age. He still puts in as much field patrol time as any of the other team members and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon – a truly remarkable feat.

  p-mwangi-sons.jpg

[Peter (centre) and sons Laban (left) and Stanley (right)]

 

Local communities can, do, and should play a greater role in conservation. The experience of the bongo surveillance team, made up of community members clearly proves this point.

 

Eric

 -Ends- 

Mutant Buffalo Caught on Camera

The Aberdare ecosystem is rich in nature’s wonders as demonstrated by this female cape buffalo with extraordinarily long, drooping horns. Scientists attribute this to a rare generic mutation that affects horn growth, mainly in females. The Aberdares has a buffalo population numbering in the thousands, but this is only our second sighting in the last couple of years. The unusual sight was captured by a trap camera in the central Aberdares.

long-horned-buffalo-abd-dec-08.jpg

Female cape buffalo

Trap cameras are specialized digital cameras that are automatically triggered by nearby movement. The Bongo Surveillance Programme (BSP) is a Rhino Ark-supported initiative that has set up cameras at selected locations in the Aberdare ecosystem. The cameras photograph anything that crosses their path, day or night, but their main aim is to capture evidence of the elusive and highly endangered mountain bongo antelope. The BSP supports conservation of mountain bongo in the Aberdares ecosystem. A trap camera in the densely forested Salient area of the eastern Aberdares recently captured a rare image of a small herd of bongo.

group-bongo-honi-dec-08.jpg
Mountain Bongo at salt lick
More on the Bongo Surveillance Programme soon…
Eric