This is a ‘ guest’ blog by good friend, safari connoisseur, and conservationist Ken Coe…
What’s a hirola? Even amongst seasoned guides and safaristas, the name does not ring many bells. Pity, because hirola is an attractive, mid-sized antelope on the verge of extinction, occupying a fragile, sometimes politically unstable landscape in eastern Kenya close to the Somali border.
And here’s the “ton-of-bricks” reality: a final decline of the hirola (Beatragus hunteri) would represent the first extinction of a mammalian genus on the African continent in modern history.
The hirola looks unremarkable at first glance. It looks like a cross between an impala and a hartebeest.
Upon closer examination, however, the animal makes its case: a soothing sandy/beige coat; a pair of extremely conspicuous pre-orbital glands just below the eyes; and a distinctive, chevron-shaped white strip across the forehead.
Where the white strip meets the eyes, it encircles them, making it appear as if the animal is wearing swimming goggles. Whatever it takes to stay afloat… Mature bulls, as if to fully appreciate their predicament, betray a furrowing of the brow.
What was once a thriving population numbering in tens of thousands in eastern Kenya and southern Somalia had been reduced to 400 or so by 2010 due to loss of habitat, competition with livestock and poaching.
Prior to that, there were two separate attempts by the Kenyan Wildlife Service to translocate some animals to Tsavo East National Park in hopes of establishing an insurance population, but Tsavo being foreign to hirolas, their future there is in uncertain.
Enter Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). This Kenya-based conservation organization rallied the local Kenyan Somali population to create a conservation area called the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, abutting the Tana River, in order to protect the last remaining hirolas. A no-livestock-grazing zone was created in exchange for assistance with security, implementation of beneficial rotational livestock grazing schemes, access to new sources of water and employment.
And in order to further ensure protection of the hirola, with funding from The Nature Conservancy and Save Our Species, a 23km2 predator-proof sanctuary within Ishaqbini was established in August 2012, in which sanctuary a founder population of 48 hirolas were placed.
Just shy of its three-year anniversary, the predator-proof sanctuary is now home to some 80 individuals.
While visits to the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy are possible on a one-off basis today, it is hoped that one day there will be a proper, community-run tourism operation.
Ishaqbini occupies a unique “garsa woodland” biome and is home also to animals such as zebra, reticulated giraffe, buffalo, desert warthog, gerenuk, lesser kudu, coastal topi, lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dog.
In addition, Ishaqbini is adjacent to the Tana River Primate Reserve, which harbors two critically endangered primates – the Tana River red colobus and the Tana River mangabey: the greater Ishaqbini area is a place that will fascinate keen students of nature.
But ultimately, the story of Ishaqbini is about the indigenous community doing its part to conserve its own natural resources. The hirola conservation project, while assisted by outsiders, was discussed, blessed and ultimately led by the local people.
It is the definition of “community-based conservation”, a term bandied about often too loosely in the conservation world. Ishaqbini is a conservation model to be envied across Africa. Mongolia . seo data tcaps cloud .