{% if MARKER_ID %} {% endif %}

Milestones in Conservation: Safeguarding the Future of Kenya’s Mountain Bongo

March 19, 2024

After more than two years of steadfast effort, February marked a significant milestone with the official launch of the Ragati Forest Mountain Bongo Security Site. Join us as we recount the highlights of this monumental event, where Dr. Clément Lanthier, President and CEO of the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, stood alongside esteemed partners, including our core partners at Rhino Ark to commemorate this achievement.  

Calgary Zoo CEO Kenya Visit 2024

Mountain bongo are a Critically Endangered subspecies of forest antelope found only in Kenya —  they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild according to the IUCN Red List. They have seen a drastic population decline over the last 40 years, from factors such as over-hunting, live-trapping, and habitat loss and degradation. Wild populations of these elusive animals are alarmingly fragmented, with fewer than 80 mountain bongo believed to survive across disjointed mountain forest ecosystems in central Kenya. 

With a chestnut brown coat featuring white vertical stripes and a distinctive crest of hair along their backs, mountain bongo are both captivating and important in the forest ecosystems where they live. Bongo are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, and both males and females sport spiralled horns that can grow up to a meter in length. 

Mountain bongo

Photo Credit: John David

Historically found in Kenya’s mountain forests, mountain bongo are an umbrella species, meaning that by helping to protect them we are also indirectly protecting the many other species that share their forest home,  including African elephants, leopards, black-and-white colobus monkeys, waterbuck, and giant forest hogs. Protecting mountain bongo also safeguards the mountain’s vital water supply. These mountain forests, known as the ‘Water Towers of Kenya,’ contribute over 75% of Kenya’s water resources.

To address the urgency of mountain bongo conservation, one suggested strategy involves reintroducing mountain bongo from populations under human care. However, for this strategy to succeed, a secure forest home is needed. Recognizing this, the Ragati Forest Mountain Bongo Security Site was built as a remote base for rangers from the Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, and community scouts. Equipped with solar lighting, water storage, accommodations, a viewing platform, and more, the site will ensure the safety and security of mountain bongo and create a safe environment contributing to future reintroduction efforts. 

Joining in the official launch of the Ragati Forest Mountain Bongo Security Site on February 15, Clément, alongside government agencies, community members, private organizations, and NGOs, marked a significant step forward in mountain bongo conservation. The initiative aligns with Kenya’s National Recovery and Action Plan for the Mountain Bongo, guided by an expert advisory committee with a focus on enhancing security as a top priority. 

Calgary Zoo CEO Kenya Visit 2024 Day 3

Community engagement has been key in efforts thus far, with a household survey indicating that 92% of community members across five forest-adjacent locations support the idea of a mountain bongo reintroduction. Regular public meetings keep community members informed of progress, while collaboration with the Ragati and Chehe Community Forest Associations empowers forest-adjacent communities to secure user rights and co-manage their local forests.

Moving forward, efforts will include building temporary animal holding and veterinary facilities, additional lodging, and laboratory space onto the security site. Another key step will be securing healthy bongo from organizations with this species under their care to participate in a reintroduction pilot program. This collaborative approach underscores the power of collective action in championing the conservation of this iconic and Critically Endangered species. We’re proud to work alongside our partners and local communities to help secure a future for mountain bongo in Kenya.

Learn more about the Kenya Mountain Bongo Partnership.