A first ever attempt to GPS collar wild hirola in their native range has been hailed a success by conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
A total of nine animals were identified by field-workers in Kenya who spent eighteen months monitoring their habitat. Seven herds of hirola were identified between Boni Forest and the Tana River in north-eastern Kenya. Adult hirola were carefully captured and GPS collars fitted before they were left to roam free once again.
Cath Lawson, ZSL's EDGE Programme coordinator says: "Hirola is an EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) species - one of the most unique and threatened animals on the planet. Over the past thirty years numbers have plummeted by almost 90 percent, and they continue to decline.
"As the sole representative of its group, the loss of the hirola would be the first extinction of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in more than 100 years," Cath added.
GPS collars were fitted to at least one individual per herd, allowing conservationists to record vital information on population growth, group movements and behaviours.
Conservationists in the field work closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service and local communities to locate hirola herds by distinguishing the footprints and faeces of hirola from those of other ungulates found in the same area.
There are an estimated 400-500 hirola living today, but these animals continue to be severely threatened by some combination of drought, predation, poaching, and habitat loss.
ZSL's EDGE Fellow and University of Wyoming doctoral student Abdullahi Hussein Ali says: "GPS radio-collars record one location every three hours throughout the year, and provide us with vital information on movement patterns which we wouldn't otherwise get.
"Because of the elusive nature of the hirola, identifying different herds for collaring was not an easy task. This particular habitat had also recently been hit by drought, so it made our job harder as it caused the hirola to disperse further in search of greener pastures," Ali added.
The GPS collars will drop off remotely in June 2014. Results from this study will provide much-needed information on the basic ecology and natural history of the hirola. This will form the basis of developing conservation efforts and monitoring of this rare and beautiful antelope in north-eastern Kenya.
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