The hirola antelope, also referred by many as the ‘living relic’, is a rare type of antelope classified in the IUCN Red Data List as a ‘critically endangered’ species – the last stage after which an animal is declared extinct if the conditions causing its decline are not checked.
For the hirola antelope, which is the only existing member of its genus, this would have a devastating historical impact making it the first such loss since the evolution of modern man.
Since efforts to conserve it began in the 1960s, the species has suffered a devastating decline in the last 30 years, with numbers dropping from around 14,000 in the 1970s to an estimated 300 today.
The surviving animals are threatened by drought, poaching and habitat loss. But much of the decline seems to have occurred in 1983 and 1985 during the outbreak of rinderpest in the region.
The range of the hirola in Kenya has been declining over time from about 17,900 KM2 in the 1960s to roughly 7,600 KM2 in 1996. Today only the central portion of the species’ historic range in Kenya is occupied.
In 1963, a founder population of 10-20 hirola was released into Tsavo East National Park. By 1996, the population had grown to 79. Another 29 were translocated into the national park the same year.
Currently, the park has a total population of 100 which provides an ideal opportunity for researchers to study the behaviour and ecology of the species and understand more about what factors could be responsible for their decline in the wild.
Recently the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) held a 3-day national hirola stakeholders’ meeting at Masalani, Ijara, Kenya, to revise and update the national hirola conservation plan after the previous one expired in 2009. The workshop held from June 20 to 22, 2011 was to map out a new strategy for the conservation of the hirola for the next five years.