Known as: Hirola Antelope, Hunter’s hartebeest, Hirola
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 245
Description: The Hirola is a large antelope, weighing between 80 and 120 kilograms and standing 1 to 1.25 meters tall at the shoulder. Its sturdy body is covered in light brown fur with white “eyebrow” markings on the face. Two superbly curved and rippled horns rise from this animal’s brow, coming to long, slim, sharp points that make effective weapons for defence or breeding-season disputes. The Hirola has a long nose and, from the side, a dished-in face which gives it a very distinctive look. Its ears are also long, but its neck is quite short by antelope standards, which give it an almost bovine look from some angles.
Habitat: Living on the open, grassy plains of Africa, this antelope is a grazer, but a fairly specialized one. It does not feed on long grass but centres its foraging efforts on short, newly sprouted grass. This means that the Hirola must move constantly from place to place, looking for new grass. The creatures are crepuscular, feeding heavily mostly around sunrise and again immediately after sunset. Most of the time, these antelopes live in small herds of up to a dozen animals, though they sometimes band together temporarily.
Herd structure: Male Hirolas defend a harem of females from other males, with fights sometimes becoming quite fierce as the antelopes use their sharp, potentially lethal horns in combat. There are also bachelor herds made up of young males with no harems yet. Females, unfortunately for the species, leave the herd temporarily and give birth alone, making them tempting targets for predation. Sexual maturity occurs at around three years of age, and the antelopes live perhaps ten years on average.
Location: The Hirola antelope is found in adjacent areas of Kenya and Somalia, though it is feared that the Somalian population may be extinct. Its range was formerly much larger. These antelope prefer grassy plains, as grazing animals who rely on speed to escape predators.
Threats: A battery of hazards threaten the survival of this species, whose population has dropped from approximately 10,000 individuals to 245 over the course of thirty to forty years. Direct killing in the form of hunting and poaching is the largest threat to Hirolas, but there are many other problems as well. Overgrazing and climate change have resulted in drought conditions throughout the region, which negatively impacted the antelope population.
Close contact with domestic animals has also led to the Hirola’s decline due to infection with various diseases. Rinderpest and tuberculosis are the most important of these. Habitat loss has also made it progressively more difficult for the animals to recover.
Conservation efforts: Though the Hirola lives in theoretically protected areas, policing is next to impossible with the funds currently available. An organization known at the Hirola Management Committee, or HMC, is spearheading efforts to create more protected areas and improve enforcement. Wisely, they are also seeking to make the antelope valuable to local people by promoting eco-tourism to see the Hirolas. Reintroduction of these animals to Tsavo East National Park has also been successful, with the herd increasing to at least 100 individuals since release.
African Wild Dog Conservancy
African Wild Dog Conservancy operates in Kenya to protect Hirola antelopes through research programmes, educational programmes and by training the local communities.