UAE zoo protecting East African bongo

Image Credit: UAE Interact / UAE National Media Council

A new plan has been developed at Sharjah’s Al Bustan Zoological Centre to save an East African antelope species.

The bongo, as it’s known, is nearly extinct and international conservationists fear time is rapidly running out to save it.

That’s why it is so important that researchers in the UAE has taken the lead in this fight.

Al Bustan houses seven of only 700 mountain bongo held in captivity world-wide and fewer than 50 bongos exist in the wild in their native Kenya which puts them firmly into the critically endangered category.

Of the zoo’s vet nurses, Kate Burns, says every individual counts.

“There are only 47 left in the wild so yes, breeding, we need to maintain the genetic diversity of the species and that means swapping – swapping animals, swapping experience,” says Burns.

The Sharjah park has held a two-day workshop to establish a captive breeding programme to increase the population of the dying breed.

Conservationists from the US, Europe, and Africa took part in discussions to form a solid plan of action.

“It was a very exciting workshop, definitely,” says Burns. “Al Bustan is going to be creating a website for the Eastern Bongo so collections in the Middle East will be able to access this website where there will be expert advice, husbandry guidelines, all of that.”

Animal biologist and specialist researcher of endangered species, Doctor Anas Idriss, was one of those invited.

“They were primarily concerned with what the most successful means to preserve this animal are and what efforts are being made ​​at state level and by scientists and environmental and biological experts,” says Dr Idriss.

Al Bustan Zoological Centre is a 17-hectare privately owned zoo that houses 856 animals of from around the world, including those from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Australia. 

Its 101 species  include giraffes, ostriches, zebras and pink flamingos but about 90 per cent of the animal collection is endangered or critically endangered.

Their track record with breeding these endangered species is well-established, with successful programmes for the Dama Gazelle and the Scimitar-horned Oryx.

Ultimately the breeding programme will aim to introduce the captive-bred bongos into their natural wild environment.

“Ideally animals would live in their original environment, says Dr Idriss. “However, if this original environment is threatened by man himself as a result of urban expansion, hunting and climate change then all these reasons make the animal’s natural environment an inappropriate place for it to breed and increase.

Story originally featured in Emirates News, 24 May 2013.

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