Conservation of Roan Antelopes Gains Momentum

For many years, roan antelopes, one of Africa’s most endangered antelope species, have been threatened by both internal and external factors, including human activity near parks.

Human-caused wildfires, poaching, and encroachment on their habitats have hampered the population growth of these rare animals.

Originally, 300 of the species were spread across the country, including the Mara game reserve, Thika, Chyulu hills, Ithango hills, Tana, and Cherangani hills, with 200 of the total number found in Lambwe valley in Homa-Bay County.

Ruma National Park in Kenya currently has only 18 roan antelopes, as opposed to the 200 that existed there in 1978.

The antelopes, known as Omoro by the Luo community who live in the areas surrounding Ruma National Park, live in breeding herds of up to 35 individuals but can graze in groups of 5-15 individuals.

The species is a group animal, with one breeding male protecting a group of up to 200 animals.

Their population has been threatened since the 1900s, when it plummeted between 1970 and 1974 due to rampant poaching for meat and cultural practices, leaving only 109 roan antelopes.

Over time, communities surrounding the park’s cultural practices included killing the species in order to use their horns as musical instruments and their skins in burial ceremonies.

Between 1985 and 1990, the species’ population was reduced to 35 antelopes, prompting the government to fence off the park.

The park was originally known as Lambwe Valley Game Reserve in 1966 and was upgraded to Ruma National Park in 1983 as part of the government’s efforts to be at the forefront of the fight for species conservation.

The introduction of rhinos in Ruma boosted conservation efforts even further, prompting the park’s fence to be upgraded to an electric fence in 2011 to provide a safe haven for the species and others on the verge of extinction.

The Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala and Homa Bay County Governor Cyprian Awiti commissioned the government to launch a 10-year national recovery and action plan for the species in Kenya in 2020.

The plan calls for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to establish a stable and growing population of roan antelopes by reducing natural predation and identifying a predator-free sanctuary for the animals.

The National Government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, has since implemented measures to ensure the species’ protection and population growth, including the establishment of a 5.6 square kilometer sanctuary within Ruma National Park in Homa Bay County.

Senior Warden Titus Mitau of the park elaborated, saying that the sanctuary’s goal is to create a predator-free environment for the endangered species.

“After a gestation period of nine months, calves are separated from herds in secluded environments for about six weeks, this saves them from being easy prey for hyenas and pythons,” explained Mitau.

Because the animals need to drink twice a day, the KWS in Ruma built two water points within the sanctuary to ensure the animals are cared for in a safe environment.

The plan also mentioned ways to ensure population growth by identifying suitable sources of population, which included conversations with potential country sources.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan agreed to exchange Roan antelopes and black rhinoceros during a visit to Dar es Salam late last year in order to boost the populations of the two species.

Tanzania currently has approximately 4,000 Roan antelopes. After a successful experimental transfer of one of the antelopes, Kenya is expected to receive 20 roan antelopes from Tanzania around June of this year.

Mitau elaborated, saying that the animals from the two countries will be kept separate within the same sanctuary before being released to interbreed after a period of time.

The country expects to register up to 30 roan antelope within Ruma National Park by the end of this year, according to the 10-year plan.

KWS has also been able to obtain equipment such as cameras and computers for monitoring roan antelope growth as well as human activity in the surrounding areas.

Mitau went on to say that the KWS has also enlisted scientists to investigate the causes of antelope deaths and how to better rear the species.

The warden went on to say that the species’ population is threatened by wildfires started by residents of the Lambwe region, which surrounds the park.

He added that the local farming community usually lights fires on their farms at the end of each dry season to reduce tsetse fly populations and bring forth rainfall, as the Luo community believes.

“Fires sometimes spread across the fence killing crawling animals as well as young herbivores that are unable to outrun it,” elaborated Mitau.

He did, however, state that the KWS is already working to clear areas around Ruma to serve as breaks for the frequent fires.


He went on to say that the park had created job opportunities for locals who drove the tractors used to maintain the park’s grounds.

Conservation of Roan Antelopes Gains Momentum

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