MASALANI, Ijara District -- The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), The Nature Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and partners banded together to establish the Ishaqbini Community Conservancy, the only hirola sanctuary on the planet.
A recent survey showed that in less than three years 34 hirola have been born, bringing the number of antelope protected from poaching and predators in the sanctuary to 78.
"A lot of people may not view 34 births in three years as significant, but with fewer than 240 hirola left in the world we’re talking about the difference between survival and extinction," said Matthew Brown, Africa Deputy Director, The Nature Conservancy.
"Without immediate action like this community partnership, a mammal would go extinct for the first time on mainland Africa in modern human history."
The hirola is the last living representative of an evolutionary lineage that originated over three million years ago.
"The surviving herds live along the Kenya-Somalia border, inhabited by the Pokomo community and Ishaqbini Conservancy.
"Resembling a hybrid of impala and hartebeest, the hirola is instantly recognizable by its trademark white "spectacles."
In 2006, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy was established by NRT, The Nature Conservancy, KWS and community partners to protect critically endangered hirola.
Rangers began anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring activities and were able to eliminate poaching within the 19,000-hectare conservancy.
With poaching under control and habitat improving, the hirola population began to show signs of recovery.
But this success arrived with an unintended consequence: predator populations - in particular lion, hyena, and leopard also increased.
Therefore, it was determined that the best hope for the hirola’s survival was to contain a viable population within a predator-proof fence.
With this level of protection, the population could recover sufficiently in number to withstand pressures from predation, livestock competition, and occasional poaching.
Once this conclusion was reached, Ishaqbini generously set aside an additional 2,400 hectares of prime hirola habitat to serve as the site for the sanctuary.
A predator-proof sanctuary was built and 48 hirola were successfully trans-located into the sanctuary in August 2012.
The translocation effort was deemed an overwhelming success (there were no hirola deaths during or immediately after the translocation.
Ishaqbini is home to Somali pastoralists who voluntarily established this dedicated area for hirola, assisted with the translocation, and continue play a crucial role.
The people of Ishaqbini have been quietly conserving this landscape for centuries and regard the hirola as a blessing.
"The participation of elders in the trans-location operation was invaluable and their first-hand feedback to the community regaling stories of helicopters maneuvering through bushes, the gentleness of captured hirola, and ‘a magical elder with red eyes and holes in his ears who grows the tail of a hyena and mimics their calls in order to catch them’ will be more powerful in entrenching that the sanctuary indisputably belongs to the community than any ‘conservation awareness’ we can do ourselves," said Dr. Juliet King, Science Advisor, Northern Rangelands Trust .
The partnership continues to improve hirola protection and bring benefits to the communities that share the hirola habitat by:
• Creating and maintaining a predator-proof sanctuary:
• Providing anti-poaching security
• Protecting habitat
• Fostering ecotourism opportunities
• Providing peace and security for the people
Additionally, the other wild animals in the sanctuary like giraffes, zebras, lesser kudu, gazelles, ostrich and many others are significantly multiplying.
Elephants for the first time have made their way into the sanctuary, and there is now an elephant family of eight settled in their new secured habitat.
The project’s long-term goal is to release animals bred within the sanctuary back into the free-ranging population, ultimately building a viable population that is equipped to cope with natural levels of predation and competition.