- Eighteen mountain bongo antelopes, a critically endangered species, arrived safely in Mt Kenya National Park last month from America via a special plane. Exterminated from the park nine years ago, the US bred bongos are to re-establish a thriving population under the control of local communities.
Mt Kenya National Park is a World Heritage Site and used to be a core native habitat of the bongo antelopes. The Park's graceful wild bongo population however was decimated by unrestricted hunting and poaching and lions, and the last sighting was nine years ago.
Luckily, relatively large populations of bongos existed in captivity in far away North America, and thanks to an unprecedented international partnership, the antelopes have now returned to Mt Kenya.
UN agencies, 13 US zoos, environmental organisations, the Kenyan government and local communities have cooperated in the airborne repatriation of the bongos in a project that aims to permanently re-establish the endangered species in the Park.
Their return is linked to a broader conservation effort — the Community Management of Protected Area Conservation (COMPACT) initiative, a joint programme of the UN Foundation and the Global Environment Facility's Small Grants Programme and administered by UNDP, that is helping communities protect ecosystems and species while improving their livelihoods.
- This innovative partnership embodies the philosophies of both the UN Foundation and the World Heritage Programme, said Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, which provided funds for the repatriation. "The bongo becomes a metaphor for what is possible in the world and what the UN does by bringing people together to build a better world," he said.
The UN development agency UNDP has assisted in the programme. "The plight of the bongo is a vivid reminder of the fragility of Africa's unique natural heritage," commented UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown. "Our hope is that returning these animals to their native habitat will be a boon to local wildlife and, just as important, to the people who live and work around this magnificent mountain."
During the past three years COMPACT has supported 28 community projects through an investment of almost US$ 1 million in Kenya, according to UNDP. "An eco-resource centre will soon open to the public, thousands of indigenous trees have been planted, and promotion of modern beekeeping, use of energy-efficient stoves, and efforts to reduce garbage dumping are protecting Mt Kenya forests," the UN agency says.
- We Kenyans have received a rare second chance with the repatriation, and with the increasing participation of communities in the management of natural resources, the repatriation will raise the level of pride and ownership of our wildlife, Francis Maina, of the William Holden Wildlife Education Centre told UNDP.
The 18 bongos from the US were raised in captivity and cannot be released into the wild. They will be part of a breeding programme at the Mount Kenya Game Ranch, and their offspring will gradually be introduced into the National Park. Soon after arrival, in fact, a female bongo was born - and has been named "Kenya".
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