Conservation Location of the Week – Eastern C.A.R.

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A view over the riverine bakos and savannahs of the remote Chinko River basin (sorry about the watermark…)

The sun rises over the vast savannahs of the eastern Central African Republic. The peaceful serenity of the slowly winding Chinko River through the endless grassland-forest mosaic is broken only by the occasional chatter of parrots. In the meadows beyond, groups of Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Buffon Kob, Buffalo, and Elephants peacefully graze while Leopards and Lions sleep lazily near the trees. To the south of the savannahs lie the forested plains. Here, the Red River Hog noisily rummages through the trees while the are Pousargues’s Mongoose cryptically slinks through the shrubby covet. This land is ruled by the majestic Giant Eland, Africa largest and possibly the most majestic of all the world’s antelopes. In the riverside swamps, monstrous Giant Forest Hogs splash while the dainty Sitatunga slowly walks, hoofs splayed on the muddy marsh plants. In the early morning and late evening, the beautiful Bongo moves in and out of the saline bais of the Mbari River in large herds, the previously empty clearing becoming a mass of golden striped fur, twirling ears, twisting tails, and spiraling horns. This is the vast, remote Chinko-Mbomou region of the Central African Republic and it’s one of the last great wildlife wildernesses on Earth.

Status: not protected properly, but contains one of the richest rare mammal species assemblages in Africa. Three massive protected areas, Manovo Gounda St Floris NP, Bamingui-Bangoran NP, and Zemongo Faunal Reserve were established – at least on paper (…oh my god…), but none are protected or instituted properly and poaching and banditry is rife and endemic in all three. Fortunately though, private hunting companies have established conservancies with much better funding and protection and wildlife flourishes in these areas with very little armed conflict and other problems associated with the nation’s general abject poverty. One concession group (40, 41, and 48), owned by a company known as Central African Wildlife Adventures (CAWA), located in the SE of the Mbomou region of the nation, is key in location for effective protection. Located at the crossroads of the Equatorial Rainforest and Sudano-Guinean Savannahs, this area is one of the most diverse, well protected, and pristine in the whole country.

Key species for conservation include:

Giant (Lord Derby’s) Eland (Tragelaphus derbianus) – Africa’s largest antelope and arguably the continent’s best

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Image from: (http://www.gssafaris.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Lord-Derby-Eland-300×208.jpg)

Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus) – also in the running for Africa’s best antelope; wonderful species seen in large herds

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Image from: (http://www.cokesmithphototravel.com/image/56334603.jpg)

Giant Forest Hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) – certainly one of Africa’s more grotesque animals; while relatively common, bushmeat poaching in unprotected areas has been observed to take quite a toll on the species’ health

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Image from: (http://lh4.ggpht.com/d7GI1eK-lRO8Rbi3wsNI9o9eo51L4NCZx5dgTCFvmLDvIxerx-SCSv2lS9fThslm6Hj6yqeBR2ya9v9P4tc9=s580)

Red River Hog (Potomacherus porcus) – in the running for the world’s best looking pig and very cool

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Image from: (http://www.rockjumperbirding.com/wp-content/gallery/slideshow-gabon/hog-red-river-1-tassi-ar.jpg)

African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata) – probably the world’s least known felid and one of the most elusive and enigmatic; even more interestingly, it occurs here with a closely related species – Caracal – that it almost never occurs in the wild with; a camera-trapping project rec’d both these species here, representing an over 400 km range extension (!)

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Image from: (http://photos.mongabay.com/j/03_AfricanGoldenCat_PreciousWoods-%282%29.568.jpg)

Other unique, rare, and little known mammals also occur here including the Long Nosed Mongoose, Black Footed Mongoose, Water Chevrotain, Agile Mangabey, De Brazza’s Guenon, Patas Monkey, Weyn’s Duiker, White Bellied Duiker, Aardvark, and Giant Pangolin… WOW!

Most importantatly… Pousargues’s Mongoose (Dologale dybowskii) – not recorded for over 20 years in its habitat – the plains and savannahs of NW Uganda, CAR, DRC, and South Sudan; it was confirmed here by the Chinko Project camera trapping survey and photographed for the first time; as of now, this is the only are where we have confirmed records for this species and is currently a top conservation priority for preventing the animal from traveling to extinction

For Info on this project check out: http://chinkoproject.com/, http://chinko.posterous.com/, and http://al-safari.blogspot.com/ (this last one is a hunting blog though, so be prepared for the dead animal pictures – there is a ton of info on the region though)

(picture from: http://www.africahunting.com/hunting-pictures-videos/watermark.php?file=17455&size=1)

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Mammal of the Week – Hirola

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Hirolas, Ishaqbini Community Conservancy, Ijara, Kenya

Hirola (Beartragus hunteri)

Status: Critically Endangered

The Nature Reserves of Northern Kenya – a streaming plain of golden savannah studded with acacia and garsa trees – harbor some of the most important wildlife populations on Earth. Classic African animals such as Elephants, Rhinos, Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, Zebras, Hyenas, Giraffes, Hippos and Warthogs coexist alongside the lesser known, but just as unique inhabitants such as the Aardvark, Dik-dik, Aardwolf, Caracal, and Elephant Shrew. There is one animal though, that’s the rarest of them all. It’s name is the Hirola, or Hunter’s Hartebeest and it’s one of the most endangered mammals on Earth.

In the arid southeast of the region lies a great river called the Tana. Its banks are lined with lush riverine forests while semi-desert garsa savannah cloaks the lands surrounding the area. This is the home of the Hirola, and this is where it makes its last stand for survival.

The story of the Hirola is a troubled one. It was estimated that in the late 1970s, there were over 16,000 Hirola living across the vast semi-desert range-lands of Northeast Kenya and Somalia. Unfortunately, today, it is estimated that less than 500 exist in the wild. A translocation to Tsavo East NP “to establish a stable founder population” largely failed, with almost 100 animals introduced (outside of original range). Now, there are still only around 100 animals, with no population growth noted. These issues though, pale in comparison to the Hirola’s situation in East Kenya. After a series of terrible droughts, the population crashed almost 90% in less than a decade. The Hirola’s main stronghold, the Arawale National Reserve, fell into disrepair in the poaching conflicts of the 1980s and illegal cattle herders took over. Soon, the populations became extinct from the reserve and only two remained, one in a remote area of the Ijara District, near Masalani on the east bank of the Tana River, and another on the western fringe of the great Boni-Dodori Forest. The situation of the Hirola was clearly looking very, very bleak…

Fortunately though, there is always a beacon of hope, even in times of darkest desperation. In the early 2000s, Northern Rangelands Trust founder Ian Craig was camping in a remote wilderness of land in an area of Kenya known as the Tana River/Garissa District. While setting up camp one evening near the great river Tana, Craig noticed a small group of antelope watering at a nearby pond. His first instinct was that they were Impala, but of course, he remembered that Impala are not found for hundreds of miles around. After a quick peek through his binoculars, shock and awe followed – he had found a lost population of Hirola! After making agreements with locals, the Ishaqbini Community Conservancy, the only protected area for this species was established in 2007 with wholehearted support from the indigenous peoples, very unusual for wildlife conservation projects (the local clans believe that the Hirola is a sacred beast of great beauty and power, and that it is a sin to hurt or kill one). Just last year, a new breeding compound was built – signs of hope are already beginning to show!

Now, it is possible and encouraged for keen wildlife viewers and nature enthusiasts to visit the Ishaqbini Community Conservancy (with prior notice and permission of course). Those willing to make the trek to this remote sanctuary will be led back to a world lost in time – a land where lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs hunt while rare Desert Warthogs, Coastal Topis, Reticulated Giraffes, Beisa Oryx, Dik-diks, Lesser Kudus, Elephants, and Zebras peacefully graze nearby; a land where Tana River Mangabeys and Red Colobus Monkeys forage in the tropical trees, and a land whose crowning jewel is the elegant Hirola, which just might grace the lucky traveler with its dainty presence, its tan fur gleaming, golden in the sublime East African sunset.

I hope to travel to Ishaqbini Conservancy sometime very soon…

(picture from: http://www.nature.org/idc/groups/webcontent/@web/@africa/documents/media/prd_032435.jpg)

An Intro and a Story

Hi,

I’ve just set up this blog in order to share experiences and thoughts on the present, and often depressing state of our environment and its treasured inhabitants. I’ll be posting a species of the week, usually a little-known, but charismatic creature, as part of helping generate this awareness for mammals that have benefited less from the present conservation movement, but are in straits just as dire. Related notes to the conservation topic will often also accompany these descriptions. In addition, I will also have a section regarding a conservation priority location of the weak. This is a location that is important for conservation of particular endangered species that is underfunded, underprotected, and sometimes, even unsafe. These areas are key for effective conservation protection.

The battle of wildlife conservation has been a strenuous one, wrought with difficulties and disappointments at every turn. Organizations like the IUCN and WWF bravely travel into the endless loop of human-caused species extinctions attempting to make a difference, and perhaps save that one animal on the brink and bring it back to its original abundance. Sadly, for every success story, there is always at least one backfire. The American Bison, a majestic symbol of the grand Prairie was slaughtered to near extinction in the late 19th century, but brave conservationists have restored this species to stable populations. At the same time though, the critically endangered Hirola, or Hunter’s Hartebeest clings onto an ever-decreasing stretch of habitat in Kenya’s vast North-eastern frontier. After its traditional refuges were destroyed by overgrazing, the Northern Rangelands Trust, in a heroic attempt to halt any further damage, has placed a private conservancy in the heart of this primeval refuge, dedicated to restoring the world’s rarest antelope. I truly beleive that this project is not only mean to succeed, but that furthermore, it also deserves to succeed. Scientists estimate that dozens of species go extinct every day – and worse yet, almost all of this ecological damage has been built up over the last 200 years. One can only hope that today’s best efforts might have a fighting chance of restoring at least some of what has all been lost… I hope to use this blog as a way to join the IUCN, WWF, and millions of other conservationists and biologists around the world in their struggle to achieve just that.

Cheers