It is now official that the first hirola sanctuary in the world is up and running in Ijara marking significant step towards the recovery of arguably the world most endangered antelope. The making of this sanctuary, has taken nearly two years of planning involving the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), The Hirola Management Committee (HMC), and off course local support from the surrounding communities of Hara, Kotile and Korisa villages in Ijara District.
The capture period was between the 7th to 12th of August 2012 and during this period the capture team successfully caught 24 hirola in the nets; 17 adult females, 3 sub-adult females, 2 juvenile males, 1 juvenile female and 1 adult male. Nearly all the males were released at the point of capture and only females were and few males were moved into the sanctuary. Surprisingly, there were no mortalities during the capture or at the holding pens. This is despite high sensitivity of hirola to capture myopathy and stress; previous translocations have been reported to have caused considerable mortalities.
We used drive nets and animals were pushed using low flying helicopters. Once captured the KWS vets quickly anesthetised the animal, immediately blindfolding and securing the horns with hose-pipe. The legs were then bound together using special belts and individual were then transferred carefully into special capture bags to the chopper where they were flown into the sanctuary.
Upon arrival at the holding pens, another team was tasked to carrying the hirola from the helicopter to a landing area near the holding pens for processing. Here processing time was quick, the main task being the collection of blood and tissue samples, fixing ear tags and recording of biometric body measurements for each animal.
The animals were then moved into holding pens for up to 12 hours, until effects of the tranquilizers had worn off, after which the curtains of the pens were pulled wide open and the animals were allowed to move out freely. Here noise and other human activities were minimised all the time to ensure the animals are not stressed further.
The sanctuary with an estimated area of 2, 740 ha lies with the Ishaqbini Conservancy and now has 48 hirola representing nearly 10% of the world population. Within the sanctuary area also 30 giraffe, 20 zebra, 8 topi, 2 oryx, unknown number of lesser kudu, gerenuk and dik-diks that are considered as close associates of the hirola. In the coming years, I will be monitoring the hirola within the sanctuary and the wider conservancy, in order to determine survivorship and recruitments of key life stages (i.e., calves, juveniles, or adults) to target in conservation efforts.