Our first release of 10 Bongo that had been planned and worked on for the last two years has once again been postponed.
Two days before the actual release, with all preparations, staff and equipment “at the ready” the Kenya Wildlife Service advised us that they wished to postpone the first release until they could clarify some technical issues.
The KWS had received correspondence from a Dr. Jake Veasey (Woburn Abbey Safari Park, U.K.) and others, speculating that any release of captive bred bongo could somehow jeopardize the genetics of any bongo remaining in the wild. This was based on the assumption that a very small number of bongo (estimated at max 15) may have survived in the vast and dense forests on Mount Kenya.
The KWS called for another meeting of the bongo Task force to resolve these issues.
During the meeting in July the KWS stated that they would hold on the release until genetic testing could be done. Mike Prettejohn of the Bongo Surveillance Project stated that the estimated numbers of any surviving bongo are speculative and most likely high. This meeting was followed by a “bongo workshop”. The workshop was attended by many stakeholders and a full report is in preparation. Issues such as security, genetics, species interaction, status review, vision and targets were discussed amongst others.
The meetings were also attended by Dr. Jamie Ivy the well known Population Biologist/Geneticist of the Zoological Society of San Diego as well as Ron Surratt, Chair, Bongo Species Survival program and President, International Bongo Foundation as well as Dr. Tom De Maar, DVM (Brownsville Zoo) Wildlife Veterinarian, who worked in Kenya for many years.
Dr. Ivy offered expertise that any small group of remaining wild bongo could only benefit and would not be jeopardised genetically in the unlikely event
Dr. de Maar answered questions relating to disease issues putting any reservations and assumptions in this regard to rest.
Dr’s. Reillo and Estes expressed their desire to do extensive studies on genetics on worldwide bongo populations and are in the process of securing funding for a project that would take several years and be carried out under the umbrella of their Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in the USA.
The American Association of Zoological Parks and the Bongo Species Survival Program are ready and in favour of a first release. They have offered and acquired new bongo satellite transmitters and much valuable information could be gathered following a release as had been planned.
Where does this leave the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy?
The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy has successfully saved and bred up a large herd of bongo. The plan to release groups of up to 10 animals per year has temporarily been delayed but will continue in due course in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Services.
We feel the single most pressing issue is that of security of the animals to be released.
We believe in the scientific approach and value the studies to be done.
However since it has been shown that no danger from a scientific standpoint is valid, MKWC will continue with captive breeding under the guidance of Dr. Jamie Ivy and others.
To sum up, in the words of Dr. Betsy Dresser, world famous scientist, and Sr. Vice President and Director, Audubon Nature Institute Center for Research of Endangered Species,
“There are many, many examples of herds or groups that have dropped to low numbers and built right back up again and are doing just fine. I really believe that DNA is a lot more hearty than we give it credit and able to revive itself in populations.”
MKWC fully supports the efforts and commitment of the Kenya Wildlife Service to secure the release sites from poachers and the encroachment of
civilisation and much progress has been made in this aspect.
Our education programs spearheaded and funded by our William Holden Wildlife Foundation will continue to make a difference in the education of the local area inhabitants adjacent to the Mount Kenya forest to assure their support in saving this magnificent specie.
The owners of the Mount Kenya Game Ranch have saved and bred bongo antelope since 1970 entirely with private funding of its directors, until the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy was formed to take over in 2004.
To carry on our projects continued funding is urgently needed. It is used solely to benefit the animals and their rehabilitation to their ancestral habitat on Mount Kenya.
Together we can do that!!
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