Africa’s Rarest Antelope
On the border of Kenya and Somalia lives a beautiful creature that is critically endangered: the Hirola, or “Hunter’s antelope.” The global population is around 600 animals, and it is the only existing member of its genus, Beatragus. “The loss of the Hirola would be the first extinction of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in modern human history,” wrote the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2012.
In the 1970’s there were approximately 14,000 of the endangered antelope in the wild, but those numbers dropped only a few years later to about 7,000, followed by a devastating decline due to the severe drought in 1984. Along with drought, major threats to the Hirola are hunting, disease, and habitat loss.
Physically, the Hirola are elegant creatures with large, sharp lyrate horns that arc back and up 44-72 centimeters. The antelope is medium-sized, with a tawny coat, white ears and tail, and an inverted white chevron running between the eyes.
Life for Hirolas
From the open grasslands to wooded savannahs, the Hirolas can survive with very little surface water to drink. Hirola graze on growth of short green grass known as Chloris and Digiatta species, which has a high leaf to stem ratio. Hirolas prefer habitats that are used for livestock, which puts them at increased risk from disease. Also, the Hirola habitat can be displaced because of this need for land for cattle.
The Kenya Wildlife service is working on long-term conservation of the Hirola, however, overall conservation efforts have been minimal. In 1973, the Arawale National Reserve was created as a Hirola sanctuary, but today is left in disrepair. In 2005, local communities made efforts to establish the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy. In 2010, the Hirola Conservation Programme was established, a program that works together with a network of 20 Somali herders to help save the Hirolas on the ground. Today, on the Zoological Society of London’s list of Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered Species, the Hirola demands a worldwide advocacy for its survival.