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July 2011: The Endangered Hirola, Africa

From the Photographer...

Kenneth K. Coe

The animal in the photo is the hirola (Beatragus hunteri), one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Resembling a cross between an impala and a hartebeest, the hirola has gone from tens of thousands in the 1970s to about 300-400 individuals today, all located in the northeastern corner of Kenya.

The final decline of the hirola would represent the first ever loss of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in modern history.

Luckily, The Nature Conservancy’s local partner in Kenya, Northern Rangelands Trust, manages a community-run conservancy called Ishaqbini where hirolas thrive in a unique biome we have yet to fully discover and understand. The success of the Ishaqbini Conservancy has brought unintended consequences, however—predation by lion, cheetah and wild dog (each endangered in its own right). But The Nature Conservancy is countering this threat with the help of the local people at Ishaqbini. It’s a story about a remarkable group of people who are selflessly sharing their land with the animal they revere.

I was extremely fortunate to have spent a few days at Ishaqbini in March 2009. I am happy to report that hirolas seemed to be everywhere inside the conservancy. At each encounter, adrenaline was pumping through my veins. Exposure? Composition? Never mind. I kept my finger on the shutter button and clicked away, knowing that each sighting could be my last fleeting glimpse of these animals.

A fully mature bull eluded me until when light began to fade. I was so thrilled at the sight of this magnificent bull at dusk, my ordinarily steady hands failed me in getting a tack-sharp photo (camera shake!).

But oh, it’s still so extraordinary…

Ken Coe is a member of The Nature Conservancy's Africa Advisory Council. He was born in Seoul, Korea and currently resides in Connecticut.

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