Bongo 

 

Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci

 

(June, 2013)
 
This large and very beautiful antelope is on the near edge to be extinct in the wild. About 90individuals, split up in four small populations, are what we have left.
 
The first immediate threat to this population is still illegal hunting. Poor village people try their living by setting up traps, snares or hunting with dogs to get hold of any kind of bush meat. The meat is to be consumed by themselves or sold to gain cash. In addition, some animals have fur, teeth or horns that can generate money when sold illegally. The driving force of this silent illegal activity is to survive the day. If these village people had a fair chance in an equal and justice society this illegal activity would most likely be small. But, at the same time, one can wish that those particular individuals could try another way of survival. The second immediate threat to the Bongo is their slow reproduction speed. These animals are sensitive and don’t easily mate and reproduce if disturbed by human activity. Their generation time is about 3 years in ideal cases but in these small and vulnerable populations they age and die in higher speed than they give birth. The third threat is that the four small populations are separated in different forest areas in Kenya and can not interchange individuals. They are bound to mate within the small populations and therefore facing a long term problem of inbreeding. The few animals in each small population are related to each other and when mating close relatives genetic damage and loosing genetic diversity may cause miscarriage or newborn sick animals, as well as genetic diseases may occur in later generations.
 
So, what is being done about these threats to save our Bongo at present? First of all Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is the governmental authority that is responsible for all wildlife managing in Kenya. The Bongo are in focus and do have high priority. But in the field the efforts of protective patrolling and monitoring the last remaining Bongo individuals appear not to be sufficient due to the fact that the animals still are hunted. Therefore, in addition to KWS, there are two non-governmental organizations in Kenya that are working with saving the bongo. One is Bongo Surveillance Project (BSP) that is funded by donations and carry out physical patrolling in the forest to monitor and protect the populations. BSP also collect samples from wild Bongo of dung and hair to gain information about the populations genetic health. The other organisation is Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC) that manage a population of around 65 Bongo in a fenced habitat. Most of these Bongo are semi-wild and are purposely left with a minimum of human contact to prepare relocation to the wild. These individuals constitute a closed population but still represent possible genetic input into the small wild populations. In Europe and USA some 500 Bongo, 250 on each continent, are located in zoo’s and are in a breeding program to maintain the genetic health. They are representing a genetic bank, but translocation of these animals into the Kenyan forests has from an earlier trial proved difficult. The non-Kenyan animals have not been exposed to natural occurring diseases that wild Bongo are used to, and hence majority of imported animals dies. Bongo is also a very sensitive animal and can suffer from stress during translocation to the point it dies.
 

Today the step forward is to genetically investigate the level of inbreeding within the four wild populations and in the semi-wild population in MKWC. This investigation will give a hint about how individual animals can be translocated to generate as large genetic diversity as possible. Possible translocatons could be from MKWC to the wild populations, between the wild populations and also a genetic exchange between zoo-based animals around the world and Kenyan animals. The genetic investigation can be seen in three steps; 1) sampling in the field 2) laboratory analysis and 3) data treatment to a comprehensive report. In BSP we have collected an impressive amount of samples of hair and dung from all wild populations of Bongo. In addition, I also arranged for samples from the semi-wild animals in MKWC. The analysis of these samples is very expensive. Via Evolutionary Biology Centre (EBC) at Uppsala University in Sweden, we will perform the analysis. For this analysis there is an essential genetic tool called primer, or marker, and without this no analysis can be done. It has to be developed specifically for Mountain Bongo and is very expensive to develop. So far, this is being done by American Museum of Natural History, Sackler Institute of Genomics, but has shown to take much longer time than first assumed. Once primers are available the analysis will start at EBC. I hope to be able to have a report during 2014 to found the new strategies of Bongo conservation.

 

 

Copyright Henrik Svengren 2014 - All rights reserved

 

 

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