National Bongo Task Force
Meeting July, 22, 2010
KWS Headquarters, Nyeri, Kenya

The National Bongo Task Force (BTF) regrouped for another meeting on July 22 at the KWS Aberdare Headquarters in Nyeri, Kenya. In addition to Official Task Force members, Dr. Jake Veasey, Behaviorist and EEP Coordinator for Bongo, from Woburn Safari Park attended this meeting along with Dr Jamie Ivy, Population Biologist/Geneticist, Zoological Society of San Diego and Dr. Tom deMaar, Veterinarian, Gladys Porter Zoo.

After adoption of the minutes of the previous meeting in March, discussions that took place at this meeting were related to questions raised at the Task Force meeting in March, 2010 held at the William Holden Wildlife Education Center (WHWF) in Nanyuki, Kenya. These questions were related to genetic issues of the remaining wild bongo and the captive population at Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC) and an issue raised by Dr. Jake Veasey, regarding his belief there was a bongo wasting condition in the captive population in American. Dr. deMaar, having reviewed medical reports that had been submitted to the International Bongo Studbook, addressed the speculation about a bongo wasting disease. There was no specific diagnosis of a wasting disease in captive bongo, only conditions showing wasting of animals related to other causes of illness. Wasting of body condition in any animal with severe medical conditions is common due to anorexia and other organ malfunction or compromise of other organs or body functions related to the primary condition and is not to be confused as a wasting disease such as found in a chronic wasting disease (CWD) associated with some white tailed deer in North America.

Paul Reillo, Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, also participated for part of the meeting via a telephone conference call from the United States. Paul revealed news that Dr. George Amato, American Museum, offered to process the fecal samples and identify the genetic markers at no cost. Information and conclusions gathered from the process would be made fully available to all parties involved. This was good news and should help the project move forward.

Mike Prettejohn presented an update on work by the Bongo Surveillance Project (BSP) on bongo tracking in Aberdares, Mount Kenya, Mau and Eburru. In Aberdares, 22 individual bongos have been camera trapped and thus identified by markings. Estimates made by BSP for wild bongo remaining in Kenya are as follows:

Aberdares 50
Mt. Kenya 15 (2 on camera traps)
Mau 30
Eburru 8
Total estimates for wild bongo in Kenya: 103

Mike Prettejohn added that the numbers for Mau are speculative and the other numbers are most likely high as well.
Dr. deMaar addressed the group, saying that we should not be misled to think the bongo in Kenya, though islands of bongo now, are different from one another. They are all Eastern (Mountain) bongo. Some longtime Kenya residents have pointed out that up until the last 60 years, there was a forested region between the Aberdares and Mount Kenya through the hills and valleys that run through Nyeri and lead to Mount Kenya. The Aberdares and Mount Kenya populations could indeed have intermingled until recently. Even today, one can see patches of forest intermingled with the agriculture in these hills and valleys.

Some other discussions gathered around genetic issues presented by Jake Veasey related to a future release of bongo from MKWC on to Mount Kenya, should a small population of bongo remain on Mount Kenya. Two bongos have reportedly been photographed via camera traps by the Bongo Surveillance Program (BSP), though these photos have not been revealed. BSP has estimated from tracks that 15 bongo may remain on Mt. Kenya. Dr. Veasey has speculated that any release of captive bongo could some how jeopardize the genetics of these remaining bongos. Dr. Ivy spoke regarding this issue and offered expertise that a small population such as 15 animals would not be self sustaining due to inbreeding and demographics and would benefit from supplementation from the captive herd and not be jeopardized.

Patrick Omondi, KWS and facilitator of this Task Force meeting, stated we would agree to the proposed offer by Dr. George Amato and the American Museum to process the fecal samples and produce the genetic markers for bongo. According to Paul Reillo during his telephone presentation, the genetic testing could be completed in 6 months time. Mr. Omondi continued that we would hold on the release of the bongo onto Mt. Kenya until the genetic testing was complete and would build a release boma fence to contain any released bongo at Mwingo. He then stated that if the testing came back that no problem existed “we would take down the fence”.

The remaining discussion was related to the upcoming workshop for the development of a National Conservation Strategy for Bongo in Kenya, which was to take place at the Green Hills Hotel in Nyeri, Kenya on July 26, 27 and 28.