(Beatragus hunteri)

Perhaps the world’s rarest and most endangered antelope, the hirola is the sole survivor of a formerly diverse group, and is often referred to as a living fossil. Once common throughout East Africa, the species has suffered a devastating decline in the last 30 years, with numbers plummeting from around 14,000 in the 1970s to an estimated 600 today. The surviving hirola are threatened by drought, poaching and habitat loss. Intensive conservation efforts are needed if this rare and beautiful antelope is to survive.

Urgent Conservation Actions
Support for the establishment of a conservancy to monitor the species and protect it from poachers.
Apparently now restricted to the south-eastern coast of Kenya, just south of the border with Somalia.
The name hirola derives from the Somali pastoral community, which has given refuge to this species and consider it to have spiritual significance which is linked to cattle keeping. They consider its presence a good sign and they fear that if it goes they will lose all their cattle as well.
Associated Blog Posts
6th Jun 14
It‘s the world’s rarest antelope, a unique, Critically Endangered species which is has received little media or conservation attention.  So…who’s he...  Read

8th Aug 13
  EDGE fellow Abdullahi Hussein Ali has recently been recognised by the American Society of Mammalogists for his work on the in Kenya. He has rec...  Read

28th Jan 13
The hard work of EDGE Fellow Ali and the plight of the hirola has this week been recognised by the international press as news of the first ever attempt to G...  Read

21st Sep 12
Following on from Ali's blog last week...  In February 2012, I made a request to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to fit GPS collars on 10 adult (>3 year...  Read

14th Sep 12
It’s official! The first hirola sanctuary in the world is up and running in Ijara, marking a significant step towards the recovery of arguably the world’...  Read

23rd Feb 12
My name is Abdullahi Hussein Ali and I have just started as an EDGE Fellow working on the globally endangered hirola antelope (Beatragus hunteri). This u...  Read

19th May 10
It has been long since updates are sent for the blog readers. All is well for hirola monitoring. A population is thought to increase if new born are added to...  Read

16th Feb 10
Hirola monitoring is still on as usual despite challenges here and there. However, this will not make us not to achieve what we want at the long run. Struggl...  Read

2nd Oct 09
Here is the latest blog from Kimitei, our EDGE Fellow working on the critically endangered hirola antelope in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. In both wil...  Read

31st Mar 09
Here is the latest update from EDGE Fellow Kimitei, who is monitoring the translocated hirola antelope population in Tsavo National Park, southern Kenya. ...  Read

27th Feb 09
Here EDGE Fellow Kimitei tells us more about some potential threats to the critically endangered hirola antelope, his focus species: Tsavo East National P...  Read

10th Dec 08
Kimitei, our EDGE Fellow monitoring the Critically Endangered hirola population in Tsavo National Park, Kenya, has sent us this update: Rains are now droppi...  Read

14th Nov 08
Kimitei, our Kenyan EDGE Fellow studying Africa's most endangered antelope - the hirola, has sent us the following update on his recent findings: Click h...  Read

21st Oct 08
Hi friends! It is a pleasure to have this chance to write one or two for you. I am Kimitei Kimeli Kenneth a young Scientist in Kenya. I did a Wildlife Man...  Read

6th Oct 08
Our newest EDGE Fellow, Kimitei, has recently started monitoring a translocated hirola population in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. His work will gather es...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
The family Bovidae (antelopes, cattle, bison, buffalo, goats and sheep) contains 50 Recent genera and 143 species. Nine subfamilies or 'tribes' are recognised. The hirola belongs to the subfamily Alcelaphinae (which includes hartebeests, wildebeests, and topi). This subfamily is thought to have diverged from the other bovid subfamilies during the early Miocene, probably as a result of the separation of the African and Eurasian continents. Major radiations took place within each alcelaphine tribe during the mid Miocene (15.3-12 million years ago), and again at the end of the Miocene (5.5 million years ago). The hirola lineage diverged during this final major radiation. There has been some debate over the hirola's taxonomic position, with some researchers placing it in the genus Damaliscus, along with the bontebok and blesbok (D. pygargus) and the topi (D. lunatus). However, recent molecular evidence indicates the hirola is sufficiently distinct from these species to be placed in a separate genus. Today most researchers regard it as the sole living representative of the genus Beatragus.
Head and body length: 120-205 cm
Shoulder Height: 88-134 cm
Tail Length: 10-60 cm
Weight: 68-115 kg

A slender antelope with a sandy brown coat which is paler below. The species has an elongated face with a slightly convex forehead. A white line, or chevron, passes from one eye to the other across the forehead, giving the hirola the appearance of wearing spectacles. The long, thin tail is white, as are the ears, which are tipped with black. The horns are well developed in both sexes; these are lyre-shaped and conspicuously ringed for most of their length, and when fully developed can reach lengths of over 70 cm.

Hirola are selective grazers. Their diet consists of short grasses, supplemented occasionally with forbs. They follow the progress of newly sprouting grasses on the savannah and grasslands, avoiding areas containing long grass. Most feeding activity takes place at dawn and dusk.

The species has a harem-based mating system where dominant males defend a territory containing 7 or 8 females and their young. Small groups of bachelor males and yearlings also occur. Group size usually ranges from 5 to 40, although groups sometimes come together to form herds of several hundred individuals at certain times of the year. Males compete for access to females by posturing and fighting. Mating takes place at the start of the long rainy season (March-April), with most births occurring at the beginning of the short rainy season (October-November). Females give birth to a single young, generally away from the rest of the group. They spend up to two weeks alone with their calves, during which time both mother and calf are particularly vulnerable to predation from lions, cheetahs and hyenas. The young separate from the group at around one year of age to join a sub-group of yearlings. Females sexually mature at 2 to 3 years of age, while males do not mate until they can successfully compete with other dominant males, usually between 3 and 4 years of age. Lifespan in the wild is unknown, although this species lives for an average of ten years in captivity.
Short-grassed, seasonally arid plains between dry acacia bush and coastal forest.
Restricted to an area of approximately 7,600 km² along the border of Kenya and Somalia. In Kenya the species is found in the Ijara, Garissa, Tana River and Lamu districts. The Somalian population is now thought to be extinct.
Population Estimate
Official estimates place the population size at between 600 and 2,000. The actual number of surviving individuals is thought to be closer to 600.
Population Trend
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A2cd) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Much of the species' decline appears to have occurred between 1983 and 1985. This coincides with a major rinderpest epidemic affecting domestic livestock in the region, and it is possible that there may have been transmission of the disease to the hirola population. Today the main threats to the species’ survival include disease, predation, competition for grazing and water with domestic livestock, habitat loss due to bush encroachment, and severe drought. The species has been legally protected from hunting in Kenya since 1971 and in Somalia since 1977. However, enforcement is poor and poaching by administration police, army, militia and refugees remains a key threat. The Tsavo population additionally faces predation by relatively high densities of large carnivores and competition from a greater variety of other wild herbivore species (but much lower numbers of cattle) than in its natural range.
Conservation Underway
There have been very few conservation measures for the hirola within its natural range. In 1973 the 540 km² Arawale Game Reserve was created on the east bank of the Tana River to the south of Garissa, where a substantial proportion of the remaining hirola population occurred. However, resources were insufficient to protect the species from poaching, or to prevent human encroachment into the reserve. By the early 1990s, severe drought combined with overgrazing by domestic livestock and bush encroachment had left very little suitable habitat for the hirola within the reserve.

Concern about the survival of the species led to the translocation of a number of individuals to a national park outside its recent range, where high levels of protection and management could be assured. In 1963 a small population of about 20 individuals were released into the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya from the South Garissa District. By 1996 this population had increased to 79 individuals. That same year, 29 more individuals were introduced into the park to increase the genetic diversity of the population. There are currently around 100 animals in the National Park.

This project supports in-country EDGE Fellows to help conserve relevant EDGE species

This project aims to use remotely-sensed imagery to disentangle if and the extent to which overgrazing versus elephant declines have contributed to long-term range degradation through tree encroachment throughout Ijara and Fafi Districts. In addition, habitat selection and demographic field studies of hirola within the Ishaqbini Community Conservancy, overseen by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), are being conducted. Through my work, informed management recommendations will be made to Hirola Management Committee (HMC) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Conservation Proposed
Despite efforts to relocate populations to national parks, only a small number of hirola survive. Efforts to monitor and protect the small but relatively safe population in Tsavo East National Park should continue. However, improving the habitat and resource conditions for the species within its natural range is crucial if it is to survive.

The Hirola Management Committee (HMC), a multi-institutional body comprised of local, national and international non-governmental organisations, was established in 1994 to coordinate emergency conservation efforts for this species. It produced a five-year Management Plan for the species in 2004, outlining the actions required to save the hirola. The main objectives are to improve enforcement of anti-poaching laws, enable access to food and water resources, and set up effective monitoring programmes for the species. These aims can be achieved by creating viable community-run protected conservancies or sanctuaries and by providing local people with the resources and support they need to manage and protect the hirola. One local community conservancy - the Ishakbini conservancy - has already been established at least on paper, although it is important that the animals are given preferential access to grazing and water over livestock here. Funding is urgently needed for establishing monitoring and research of hirola both in its natural habitat and in Tsavo, and for community livelihood enhancement activities such as ecotourism, which will generate the funding local people need to conserve this unique species.
Associated EDGE Community members

Kimitei is monitoring a translocated hirola population in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya.

I am a Kenyan National-studying the ecology of the hirola antelope (Beatragus hunteri).

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
The KWS currently houses the Hirola Management Committee (HMC), which was formed in 1995, with the mandate of conserving this species.
E-mail : hirola@kws.org

Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
ZSL has provided support and leadership in hirola conservation, Kenya (1995 on-going). This has included veterinary and translocation support, ecological research, genetic studies, and project planning and development at the in-situ community level.


Butynski, T. M. 2000. Taxonomy and distribution of the hirola antelope. Gnusletter 19(2): 11-17

IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group 2008. Beatragus hunteri. In: 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 12 November 2010.

Kenya Wildlife Service Kenya Wildlife Service/Hirola Management Committee. 2004. Strategic Management Plan for the Hirola (Beatragus hunteri) 2004-2009.

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. London and California: Academic Press.

Kock, R. 2006. (pers. comm.).

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Pitra, C., Kock, R. A., Hofmann, R. R. and Lieckfeld, D. 1998. Molecular phylogeny of the critically endangered Hunter’s antelope (Beatragus hunteri Sclater 1889). Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 36(4): 179-184.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

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