By Christine Dell'Amore
For the first time in 75 years, an entire genus of mammal may go the way of the dodo—unless a new conservation effort shepherded by Somalian herders succeeds.
The hirola, a large African antelope known for its striking, goggle-like eye markings, is the only remaining species in the genus Beatragus--and its numbers are dwindling fast, conservationists say.
The last mammal genus to blink out was Thylacinus, in 1936, with the death of the last Tasmanian tiger. A genus is a taxonomic ranking between species and family.
Considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the hirola has seen its numbers fall by as much as 90 percent since 1980. The latest survey, in February, found about 245 animals in fragmented pockets of northeastern Kenya and southwestern Somalia, according to the Nature Conservancy.
In all, conservationists estimate there are fewer than 400 hirolas scattered throughout the species' historic range of East Africa.
A range of factors, including climate change-related drought; unregulated hunting; habitat destruction; and more recently, predation have slashed populations.
Now the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, a network of predominantly Somalian clans, is building a a new predator-free sanctuary for the species, according to Omar Tawane Dagane, the conservancy's Kenya-based manager. More....