There were an estimated 10 to 15,000 hirola in the wild between the mid 1970s and 1983. An unassuming, fawn coloured antelope with endearing white spectacles, most people have never even heard of the hirola, latin name Beatragus hunteri. However, they are now Africa's most endangered antelope, suffering a shocking population decline of 85-90% between 1983 and 1985. There are thought to be less than 500 around today.
Ishaqbini Community Conservancy received support in 2012 to establish a hirola sanctuary. This became the first ever fenced sanctuary on community land in east Africa, dedicated to the protection of a critically endangered species. Supported with training and funding from NRT and partners, the results of this community-run sanctuary have been dramatic.
From a founder population of 48 individuals, herded in to the Sanctuary from surrounding areas, their numbers have doubled in just over 3.5 years to approximately 100 individuals.
The monitoring of hirola in the wider Ishaqbini Community Conservancy has been carried out by Conservancy rangers since 2008, using a simple ranger-based monitoring system established by NRT, called the Wildlife-Conservancy Management Monitoring System (Wildlife-CoMMS). Data collected by rangers have given us valuable insights into the demography of hirola inside and outside the predator proof Sanctuary since it was established. Data from aerial surveys conducted by NRT both within the Sanctuary and the wider Conservancy provides population estimates of other key wildlife species too. The latest 'Status of Hirola in Ishaqbini Community Conservancy' reports these key findings and trends.
Within the Sanctuary;
- Population has doubled in just over 3 ½ years to approximately 100 individuals
- Average annual population growth 20%
- Breeding season pattern changed from seasonal peak associated with rains in October – December, to births throughout the year
- Proportion of sightings of adult females to adult males has changed from 3.4:1 in the 1st year to 1.8:1 in the 4th year
In the wider Conservancy;
- Low sightings of calves (0-6mth age group) in the wider Conservancy compared with sanctuary suggests possibly low birth rate and/or low calf survival
- Higher proportion of sightings of adults in Conservancy than in Sanctuary highlighting the low proportion of calves in this population
The report also details other species that are benefitting from community conservation. There are now approximately 47 elephants in the Conservancy, and groups of elephants can be seen here throughout the year. This is a significant testament to the efforts of the Ishaqbini community to reduce poaching and increase security in the area. Prior to the establishment of Ishaqbini, elephants were rarely seen in the area. In 2014, a herd of 7 elephants broke through the Sanctuary fence and have remained in the Sanctuary, with one female giving birth to a calf. A pair of oryx translocated into the sanctuary in August 2012 have given birth to 2 calves.
Diseases from surrounding livestock are of particular concern to the rangers and the NRT monitoring department. In March 2016, a vaccination programme was carried out in partnership with KWS, San Diego Zoo and the Ministry of Livestock and Pastoral Economy.
"This project is a great success and, despite many challenges faced by Ishaqbini Conservancy over the past few years, the Conservancy team are committed to conserving this critically endangered species" says Juliet King, technical advisor to NRT. "The establishment of the Sanctuary may be the turning point for this species that otherwise was likely to have gone extinct in a very short time. This is only the first stage in an overall recovery plan for this species that will require the continued commitment of Ishaqbini and their neighbouring communities if it is to succeed. NRT is forever committed to this project and I hope in another 2 years we can report on even greater achievements for Hirola."