Chester Zoo is celebrating the birth of an eastern bongo – the rarest large mammal in Africa.
A spokesman for the zoo said first-time mum, Safi, gave birth to the critically-endangered eastern bongo calf on September 4 after a nine-month-long pregnancy. This little calf is the first eastern bongo – the world’s largest forest-dwelling antelope – to be born at the zoo for more than 11 years.
The spokesman said the birth of this calf is incredibly important as the latest estimates suggest as few as 70 eastern bongos may now remain in East Africa. The eastern bongo, which is now found in just one remote area of Kenya, is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and faces an extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.
Its population has been decimated by humans hunting for its meat and horns, combined with habitat loss caused by agriculture and uncontrolled timber felling. We are part of an endangered species breeding programme, which is working to boost eastern bongo numbers in zoos around the world and secure a safety net population.
The zoo works in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University to support vital research on the subspecies in Kenya – investigating the impact that habitat change has on the tiny bongo population that remains. We’re also working with researchers on a potential reintroduction strategy for the highly endangered animals.
Dr Nick Davis, Deputy Curator of Mammals, manages the European breeding programme for the subspecies. He said:
“We’re working hard to prevent their extinction and the new calf at the zoo is an incredibly important arrival. She’s a significant boost to the international breeding programme for these highly threatened animals.”
The eastern bongo is recognised for its vibrant reddish-brown coat which features thin white vertical stripes. The stripes break up its body shape, helping it to stay camouflaged in the forests where it is found.
Sarah Roffe, Team Manager, added:
“Eastern bongo are notoriously shy and elusive animals and new-borns will naturally look to take cover to protect themselves. We have though been able to determine that Safi’s calf is a beautiful girl. She’s ever so well so far, and is starting to explore her habitat here more and more.
“Calves have these incredible large ears which help them to hear approaching predators. At the moment, the new calf’s ears are so big that they almost look out of proportion with her body – but she will grow into them!”
Also published on Medium.