Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy occupies a special place among Kenya’s wildlife areas because it is the last remaining home of a rare and endangered species of antelope known as the Hirola.
The only other place in the world the Hirola can be found is at the Tsavo East National Park where it was translocated in 1963 in an attempt to save the species from extinction after efforts to breed the antelope in captivity proved futile.
Known also as Hunter’s hartebeest and sometimes also as the ‘four-eyed antelope’ because of its visible preorbital glands below its real eyes, the Hirola has been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered.
According to the IUCN, a critically endangered species is one which faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild. It is the highest risk category assigned by its Red List for wild species.
In an aerial survey conducted in 2010, only 245 specimens were detected, although it is highly likely the actual population may be somewhat larger. In Tsavo East National Park, they numbered about 100.
A range of factors, including climate change-related drought, unregulated hunting, habitat destruction, and more recently, predation, have been cited as the causes for diminishing Hirola populations.
But local communities from the mostly Somali Hara, Korissa, Kotile and Abaratilo clans were not about to let that happen – with help from the Northern Rangelands Trust, a community-led, non-governmental organisation set up to develop resilient community conservancies, they established the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy.
Ishaqbini comprises roughly 19,000 HA of community land the locals hope will help turn the Hirola situation around by building a new predator-free sanctuary for the antelope.
That is how in August 2012, 48 Hirola were moved from the bigger conservancy into a 3,000 HA fenced-off enclosure, the first ever fenced sanctuary on community land in Kenya dedicated to the conservation of a critically endangered species. By early 2016, there was good news – the population within the sanctuary had grown to 100 individuals.
Now operating with an annual budget of USD 167,880 and 40 staff drawn from the community, over 20 of who are KWS-trained rangers, Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy is ensuring the world has not seen the last of the Hirola.
Besides this rare antelope, it is possible to spot other game such as topi, zebra, elephant, lesser kudu, African buffalo, hippo and the Nile crocodile. With over 350 species of birds that comprise 60% of the birds found in Kenya, this place qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
If you are fortunate enough, you might even spot the very rare white giraffe of Ishaqbini that was discovered here in February 2016 by herders tending to their camel – it was never seen again. When are you next in Garissa? Give Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy a shot!