Mountain Bongo Surveillance Project
Michael Prettejohn – Mountain Bongo Surveillance Project, Mweiga, Kenya
The Bongo Surveillance Project's objective is to secure a future for the last remaining mountain bongos (Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci) in the wild. The bongo antelope is on the edge of extinction. The Bongo Surveillance Project has not only highlighted the plight of the critically endangered mountain bongo, but the serious destruction of the forest and the potential implications for the local communities. The bongo as a forest-dependent species is a flagship species for Kenya's remaining high-forest ecosystems. Efforts towards the conservation of bongos will in turn benefit the Kenyan forests and preserve these vital "water towers".
The mountain bongo is critically endangered mainly due to poaching, habitat loss, disease and predators. The species has undergone a drastic decline over the past 50 years, with inferential data suggesting that there may be fewer than 100 individuals remaining in the wild, mainly confined to the Aberdares. The Bongo Surveillance Project is led by Mike Prettejohn and his team of expert trackers drawn from the communities residing in areas adjacent to bongo hotspots. The project has a long-term commitment since it was engaged in the original surveillance commencing in 2004.
One of the key objectives of the Bongo Surveillance Project is to provide protection and ongoing monitoring of the identified bongo hotspots. This is confined to small groups, one in SW Mt. Kenya, two in Aberdares, one in Eburu and two in Mau (one of these was only recently discovered by the team in the Maasai Mau Forest – possibly up to 20 that need immediate protection). Vital scientific data are collected from the surveillance, forming a crucial information-baseline about bongo locations, habitat utilisation and threats.
The Bongo Surveillance Project also runs an effective conservation education programme through the formation of Bongo Wildlife Clubs. There are currently 19 local schools involved in this activity. The conservation education reaches into the heart of the communities living close to these forests. The potential outreach is 20,000 people.
The bongo trackers from the communities play a pivotal role in protecting the remaining bongos and their habitats by conducting regular patrols, collecting data from camera traps, removing snares and traps, and reporting and recording (by GPS mapping) any illegal activities that require interventions by the institutions managing the ecosystem. Working closely with the communities is vital for the success of the project.
Support through new technology and innovation is key to the success of the Bongo Surveillance Project, and includes introduction to solar lighting, alternative fuels for cooking (reducing demand for charcoal) and new economically designed cooking equipment that maximises available fuel (Jiko). Agricultural projects, such as initiating potato plots, fish ponds (a new source of protein), bee-keeping and introducing high-yield milk dairy goats, all have the potential to develop into significant income-generating initiatives. An example of the outreach programme's measurable conservation benefit is tree planting and tree nurseries in each community and school.