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US bongo explore boma in Kenya


On 29 January 2004, at 8:00 p.m., an Air Transport International DC-8 freighter touched down in Nairobi carrying 18 mountain bongo antelope and two tons of antelope feed, consummating RSCF’s 10-year campaign to repatriate bongo from the U.S. to Kenya.

After 90 days of rigorous quarantine and veterinary testing at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, FL, the 4 males and 14 females were crated at 4:00 a.m. on 28 January and packed for what would become a 44-hour journey ending at the Mt. Kenya Game Ranch/Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, situated at the foothills of the Mt. Kenya World Heritage Site. The animals were given a long-acting sedative to facilitate shipment, as their trip would entail a drive to Jacksonville airport for loading, then a short hop to Atlanta for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspection, then a long flight to Rome for refueling, then onto Nairobi for offloading, capped by a 3 ½ -hour drive by lorry to Mt. Kenya.

The animals arrived at the Mt. Kenya Game Ranch at 3:30 a.m. on 30 January in perfect condition, after which the bongo team and staff at MKWC waited until sunrise to release the animals into fenced enclosures that strikingly resembled some of their captive environments back in the U.S. Two groups of 6 and 8 bongos each were released into separate, large enclosures, while two females and two males were segregated into smaller, holding bomas for management purposes.

The animals raced out of their crates and into the thick cover of the enclosures, looking surprisingly refreshed. Some immediately began browsing on vegetation, while others returned to food bowls filled with familiar grain (ADF-16 Antelope feed). All settled in smoothly, without incident, and within three days appeared completely comfortable with their surroundings.

The 2004 mountain bongo repatriation project represented a rare milestone in wildlife conservation, aiming to restore a critically endangered flagship species to self-sustaining levels in the wild from captive U.S. groups. The repatriated bongos were founders for a long-term breeding effort at the Mt. Kenya Game Ranch—soon to become the Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy— whose descendants would gradually be acclimated to the wild over future generations. The program represented the first of several conservation actions needed to reestablish and secure self-sustaining, wildlife bongo populations across Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares and surrounding ecosystems and helped inspire the National Recovery and Action Plan for the Mountain Bongo in Kenya, ratified by the Kenyan Government in 2019.

The project was as unprecedented in its achievements as in its organizational partnerships. Conceived by RSCF directors Dr. Estes and Dr. Reillo in the early 1994, the bongo repatriation project linked RSCF with the United Nations Foundation and United Nations Development Programme, Kenya Wildlife Service, 13 zoological parks across the U.S., Purina Brand Mazuri Feeds (for donated antelope feed), The Donner Canadian Foundation and Calgary Zoological Society (core funders), White Oak Conservation Center and Gilman International Conservation (quarantine facility in the U.S. and partner NGO), the AZA Bongo Species Survival Plan (management body for captive bongo in U.S. zoos), Mt. Kenya Game Ranch (recipient facility in Kenya, and long-term steward for Kenya-based breeding efforts), and the William Holden Foundation (environmental education headquarters in Mt. Kenya).

Since 2020, RSCF has worked closely with Kenyan partners—namely the Meru Bongo and Rhino Conservation Trust, Meru County Government, Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Kamulu and Ntimaka Community Forest Associations—to help establish a new mountain bongo and black rhino sanctuary within the Marania forest of Mt. Kenya. This public-private-community partnership has become a model for endangered species recovery, benefitting from the many invaluable lessons learned during and since the 2004 repatriation. The Marania sanctuary was officially launched in January 2024 in anticipation of receiving a large group of mountain bongo from RSCF in late 2024.

Crated bongo loaded onto plane in FL to return to Kenya
Bongo step out of crates in Kenya.
US Repatriation Team
US bongo in bomas in Kenya
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