Mountain Bongo Surveillance Project
Mountain Bongo Surveillance Project
Over the last five years, the Bongo Surveillance Project (BSP) team has discovered that there are small isolated groups of mountain bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci) surviving today in the wild, living in Kenya’s highland forests. Found only in Kenya, the mountain bongo is critically endangered and is one of only two recognized subspecies of the bongo antelope. It was thought that the species may be extinct; thus, it came as a wonderful surprise to learn that these few bongo are still surviving despite loss of habitat and heavy poaching. The species has undergone a drastic decline over the last four decades. Exact numbers are currently unknown, but inferential figures suggest there may be fewer than 100 individuals remaining.
The threats faced by mountain bongo are many and varied. The central Kenyan highlands that they inhabit lie close to cities such as Nairobi, Kericho and Narok and are experiencing a human population explosion. This has given rise to a proliferation of illegal and destructive activity within the forest reserves, ranging from logging and charcoal production to active poaching with snares and dogs. Along with many other species in the region, the mountain bongo is hunted as "bush meat" to feed a growing human population.
The Bongo Surveillance Project
The BSP is a small grass roots community based initiative that aims to conserve the highly endangered mountain bongo through protecting their habitat and encouraging local communities to get involved in the conservation of this beautiful and rare species. With Mike Prettejohn’s leadership, BSP has gained extensive knowledge of the bongo and its habitat. Three small groups of bongo have been located in the Aberdares, a small group in the southeast region of Mt. Kenya, the same on Mt. Emburu, and a similar group recently identified in the southwest Mau forest.
The BSP representatives from these communities carry out regular monitoring with the use of camera traps and report any perceived threats to the bongo. Prettejohn adds, “this has not been an easy task, as the terrain is some of the most difficult in Kenya with conditions being particularly wet and cold. It can be an enormous challenge just to change a memory card.” The BSP team members have, in the last 5 years, learned new skills, ranging from giving presentations, to learning about new technology, GPS /mapping, and monitoring camera traps.
No conservation plan is possible without the goodwill of surrounding communities. With Tusk’s support, the BSP has developed a conservation education programme led by Peter Munene, the Bongo Wildlife Club’s coordinator. Since 2005, the education programme has grown from six to thirteen schools, all selected for their proximity to the few remaining Bongo groups. In addition, The Mountain Bongo Wildlife Clubs were formed in 2007 to increase awareness of the Bongo Surveillance conservation initiative. With Tusk’s PACE materials as a foundation for the programme, the Wildlife Clubs are a vital part of the Bongo Surveillance initiative and conservation programme. With the support of the teachers and the community, the clubs raise awareness about the vital resources of the forests, rivers and unique wildlife, highlighting the importance of these resources to the livelihoods of children and their families.
The Bongo Surveillance Project has not only highlighted the plight of the critically endangered bongo but also the serious destruction of the forest and the potential economic implications to the local community. Tusk grants to the Bongo Surveillance Project cover the project’s annual cost of promoting awareness and undertaking bongo surveillance with community wildlife clubs surrounding the forest. Each wildlife club consists of 40 pupils (aged 10 -12 years) from four schools bordering the Aberdares, two in the Mount Kenya region, three in Emburu, and four in the Mau area. Each school has been specifically selected due to its close proximity to identified bongo locations, reaching over 1,000 people in the local community.
By engaging the support of the community through the local schools, there is an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to conservation and protect the bongo and its natural habitat.
The Bongo Surveillance Project strongly believes that the involvement of the community is vital. Without local commitment, it would be an impossible task to conserve the surrounding forests, minimize wildlife poaching activities and subsequently protect this critically endangered antelope. By engaging the support of the community through the local schools, there is an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to conservation and protecting the bongo and its natural habitat.