When National Geographic explorer J. Michael Fay scours the remote forests of Central Africa, one of the animals he hopes to see is the bongo. (Follow Fay on his Expedition Through the Heart of Africa.)
This beautiful, shy antelope most people don’t know about hides itself in thickets, but it depends on openings and the fringes of African rain forest for the vegetation it eats. It is increasingly threatened by deforestation for agriculture and hunting for its meat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species assesses the bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus) as Near Threatened, reflecting concern that the species may be threatened with extinction in the near future.
The mountain bongo, a sub-species, is classified by the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group as Critically Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild), with more specimens in captivity than in the wild. It hangs on in only one remote region of central Kenya.
Hunted with dogs
Communities living alongside Central African forests often hunt bongos with dogs and set snares for them, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. “Large-scale and continuous hunting has completely eliminated bongos in some areas.”
AWF adds that the bongo also faces natural predation: Young bongos are vulnerable to pythons, leopards, hyenas, and lions. The conservation charity is working to educate local communities about the bongo and to create wildlife corridors so that the antelope can move between conservation areas, including between countries.
Zoos are also playing a critical role in saving the bongo from extinction. Scientific American reports that AZA zoos have helped establish a stable population of bongos, through captive breeding programs under a Species Survival Plan. “Many of these captive-bred bongos have subsequently been released into the wild and have helped bolster dwindling population numbers accordingly,” the journal says.
This post was produced in support of the National Geographic Photo Ark, a multi-year project to photograph all species in captivity. The bongo is one of them. To learn more about the Photo Ark, visit natgeophotoark.org,
More about the Bongo
Tragelaphus eurycerus (IUCN Red List)
Bongo video (Arkive)