You’ve probably never heard of the hirola antelope. One of the world’s most endangered antelopes is a beautiful, red-gold animal with elegant, ridged horns and striking white spectacles around the eyes.
Today, fewer than 500 hirola remain on Earth.
Most still live within their historical range in remote, northeastern Kenya, alongside zebra, giraffe, lesser kudu, gerenuk, and even elephants, which appear to moving back into the area. Hirola also live among the goats, sheep, and cattle of the local pastoralist farming communities.
Why are they endangered?
In the early 1980s, estimates had hirola populations at about about 15,000 animals. Their decline is probably due to a combination of disease, drought, poaching, and habitat loss. In particular, it’s thought that many died during an outbreak of rinderpest in the 1980s. Rinderpest is a viral disease that has since been eradicated. Currently, risks include other diseases, drought, loss of habitat, and poaching.
What’s being done?
Luckily for the hirola, the local people became concerned and formed a community conservancy to help preserve these antelope. These local communities are now guardians of the hirola in their midst, and they’ve been working with our scientists to devise methods for keeping the animals safe from drought and disease. The health of the livestock in the area is also extremely important. The pastoralists’ knowledge of their cattle and livestock is a huge asset, helping them spot any signs of trouble with the hirola sooner—plus, it’s easier to keep hirola healthy when the domestic herds they live around are also healthy and well cared for.
Additionally, 48 hirola were moved into a predator-proof, fenced sanctuary in 2012. Rangers who live in the area patrol the sanctuary, monitor the hirola population, and keep the animals safe. As of early 2016, the population of hirola there had more than doubled to 100 animals.
Early disease detection, predator-free sanctuaries, vaccination, and parasite control programs are helping the species bounce back. There is hope yet for this elegant antelope.