It has been more than a year since the government released a National Recovery and Action Plan to save the critically endangered roan antelope in Kenya from extinction.
However, little progress has been made with the 10-year plan aimed at increasing their numbers in Ruma National Park in Homa Bay County.
Work is underway to create a sanctuary for the animals in the park as challenges such as predators, forest fires and poaching continue to pose major threats that could wipe out the rare animal.
More than 200 roan antelopes were counted in Kenya in the 1970s.
Their numbers were even higher before and they occupied different habitats across the country, from the central to the western regions.
Today, however, there are only 15 roan antelopes and they are only found in Ruma National Park.
The roan antelope faces many natural and man-made challenges in various countries of the African savannah.
In order to save and enlarge its population, the government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, has launched a 10-year national recreation and action plan within the park.
But 15 months after Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti launched the plan, little has changed in the park.
However, the rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Ruma are optimistic that new interventions by the government and well-wishers to save the animal from extinction will bear fruit.
Ruma Acting Senior Warden Titus Mitau said some roan antelopes gave birth to calves. It signaled a new chapter in the effort to increase their numbers.
But as nature wanted, the young mammals were killed by predators.
They expose them to predators
Young herbivores are mainly hunted by hyenas and leopards.
In nature, red mold mothers keep their young away from their herds about six weeks after they are born, exposing them to predators.
Pythons are suspected of hunting the antelopes as well.
This therefore means that the roan antelope can be exterminated by predators because its population exceeds that of herbivores.
“One of the plans to save the animal is to create a predator-free sanctuary where the roan antelope can graze freely,” Mitau said.
“We have already built two water points in the animal’s habitat. The water supply comes from a borehole and it will reduce the animal’s distance in search of water.”
The roan antelope has a gestation period of nine months.
Calves remain in isolation for six weeks. This is the time when they are hunted and killed by predators. A herd consists of five to 15 animals.
The 200 roan antelopes that existed in the 1970s were distributed in areas such as Mt. Elgon, Ruma (formerly Lambwe Valley), Cherangany Hills, Ithanga Hills in the Kiambu District, and around the Chyulu Hills.
The population decline is attributed to habitat loss and drought. The animal drinks water at least twice a day.
In most countries, the animal lives in protected areas due to its decreasing numbers.
In order to save the 15 roan antelopes in Kenya, KWS wants to create a buffer zone around them.
Work is underway in Ruma to create a sanctuary where the animal will be free from predators, people and other elements that could threaten its life.
KWS is also erecting a fence to control the movement of other animals in the shelter. The fence will block predators and prevent poachers from killing the antelopes.
“Upon completion, all animals that threaten the life of the antelopes will be brought out and all roan antelopes will be included within the five square kilometer reserve,” said Mitau.
KWS has procured devices that are used to monitor the growth of the animal in the shelter.
The M-Pesa Foundation recently donated money to the project.
Mitau said KWS bought a vehicle, cameras and computers that scientists will use to monitor the antelope.
Forest fires are another threat to the animal.
The area around the Ruma National Park is densely populated.
The majority of people are farmers who hold the traditional belief that rain comes from smoke.
Therefore, every season of the planting season, some farmers set fire to the vegetation around their houses, convinced that the rising smoke will bring rain.
In most cases, the fire spreads over the fence into the park, killing creeping animals such as snakes and young herbivores that cannot escape the fire.
Fire also reduces food for herbivores and destroys the habitat for some birds.
In March of this year, fire destroyed the vegetation over five square kilometers.
A portion of the M-Pesa Foundation money was used to hire 17 community members to clear the vegetation around the park to create firebreaks.
Doesn’t like tall grass
âUsually fire spreads from farms over the fence to the park. To prevent similar incidents, we cleared the vegetation in areas prone to forest fires to prevent the fire from spreading, âsaid Mr Mitau.
“The tractor is also used to mow grass in the sanctuary where the roan will be. Scientists told us the animal doesn’t like tall grass.”
In addition to robbery and fire, poaching is a major threat not only to the antelopes in the park, but also to other animals such as rhinos.
Mitau reported that rangers have not seen any poachers in the park recently, but the local appetite for bushmeat is still a threat.
Some parishioners in the park have been known to kill animals for traditional values.
Herbivore horns are used for musical instruments and skin for funeral ceremonies.
Although these rituals have been undermined by today’s lifestyle, Mitau said they cannot rule out the possibility of humans killing the animals.
Ruma is easily accessible to poachers due to the public roads and footpaths that lead through the wildlife habitats from Nyatoto to Nyadenda.
This promotes unrestricted access to the park for vehicles, motorcycles and pedestrians.
High vantage points next to the park also enable poachers to monitor wild animals and the activities of KWS staff.
There is also a lack of patrols and surveillance by KWS rangers.
Poachers can use these loopholes to kill animals.
âWe’re always looking for anyone who wants to hunt the animals,â said Mitau.
When Mr. Balala visited the park on World Wildlife Day in March, he cited disease outbreaks, drought, competition with other grazing animals, mineral deficiencies and inbreeding depression as problems affecting the growth of the roan and other animals in Ruma.
KWS announced plans to introduce new roan antelopes to the park.
Mr Mitau said the government was planning to bring some animals from Uganda to Ruma when he called on residents to help expand the park.
“The number of tourists visiting the park is very small. In the past, most of the visitors were foreigners whose trips to the country were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Kenyans should embrace the park,” the ranger said.
Homa Bay County’s government, which uses the roan antelope as one of the features of their emblems, also encouraged residents to visit the park.
Tourism chief Moses Buririr said visiting the park would encourage local tourism.
“Homa Bay County has a variety of unique features for residents to explore. The park is one of them,” he said.