The mountain bongo, described as beautiful and shy, is an endangered antelope whose population living in the wild globally is estimated at just 150.
About 30 years ago, the animals used to roam the Mt Kenya forest habitat but due to hunting for game meat and trophy, the numbers got depleted.
In Kenya, the population of bongos living in the Aberdare forest and other conservancies is about 30.
But there is hope: The animals are being bred in zoos in Florida, US and this rare antelope is coming back home, thanks to a project initiated by the Meru county government in collaboration with other conservation stakeholders.
The county government has partnered with Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Mt Kenya Trust and two Community Forest Associations (CFAs) to form a trust that will spearhead the project.
Lewa Conservancy, which is offering technical assistance, has already carried out a feasibility study with findings showing that the project is viable, according to Mr John Kinoti, the community development manager.
“The study shows that once reintroduced, the bongo will not face many challenges since this used to be their home,” Mr Kinoti said in an interview.
Last Friday, deputy governor Titus Ntuchiu unveiled the Meru Bongo and Black Rhino Conservation Trust (MBBR-CT), which has been given the mandate to receive the first batch of bongos from a US-based conservation organisation and set up a sanctuary in Mt Kenya forest where the animals will be bred.
Mr Ntuchiu said the US organisation got its seed of the bongo from the habitant and the project is aimed at giving back to the community after their breeding efforts were successful.
“The conservationists identified the Mountain Bongo as faced with extinction and took a few to Florida for breeding. They are now bringing them back in this project that seeks to conserve the endangered animal,” he said.
Last year, governor Kiraitu Murungi launched the first Mountain Run in Africa to promote tourism, support conservation and help fund the establishment of a cancer institute with the mountain bongo and black rhino targeted in the conservation efforts.
The sanctuary is expected to attract tourists with the two CFAs – Kamulu and Ntimaka – benefitting from fees charged to tourists, thus providing members of the community with income.
County executive in charge of Trade, Tourism and Cooperatives Maingi Mugambi said besides conservation, the project is expected to spur tourism growth in the county.
“This is a big step towards achieving world-class tourism standards and the ripple effects of this project will be felt by members of the community since the revenue generated from tourism activities will go to the CFAs which are owned by members of the community,” Mr Mugambi said.