Good news for wildlife watchers — five mountain bongos were released into a Kenyan sanctuary earlier this week. The extremely rare antelopes hadn’t been seen wandering the wooded slopes of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-highest peak, for almost 30 years.

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Bongos used to freely roam Kenya’s forests, but their numbers have dipped below 100 in the wild. Conservationists have been breeding captive bongos, hoping to repopulate the wild.

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“Finally, these bongos are being rewilded,” Najib Balala, Kenya’s minister of tourism and wildlife, said at the opening of the Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary, as reported by Phys Org. “What a celebration. What a success.”

Humans, predictably, are responsible for the species’ critically low numbers. Colonial-era hunters prized the dark brown animals with their slim white stripes and spiral horns. They turned bongo hides into rugs and used the heads and horns as wall ornaments. People also poached bongos for bushmeat, and human habitation encroached on their homelands. Later, in the 20th century, bongos also caught cattle diseases

The last time someone saw a wild bongo around Mount Kenya was in 1994. Unfortunately, it was only a carcass. Some bongos living in American zoos were relocated to Kenya in the early 2000s to start the rewilding program. These pioneers were tame, dependent on people and unused to Kenya’s climate. The rewilding program allowed subsequent generations to be more independent and follow their natural, wild instincts. Those released this week were chosen because they are healthy, good at solo foraging and don’t trust humans.

The plan is to release five more bongos every six months. By 2050, Kenya Wildlife Service hopes that at least 750 bongos will wander Kenya’s equatorial forests.

While bongos are gorgeous animals, they’ve often been overshadowed by even more charismatic megafauna like rhinos, elephants and lions. Now, it’s the bongo’s turn. “These are the ones we have ignored for a long time, and now, we are putting emphasis on them,” Balala said.

Via Phys Org

Lead image via Pexels