Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Home > Counties > Roan antelope endangered, little-known

Roan antelope endangered, little-known

Back in the 1960s, young and energetic men would do anything possible to get their hands on the precious roan antelopes’ meat.

The roan antelope is said to have been highly valued in the community as some of its parts were essential, especially for cultural practices, as men would hunt them down only to present their meat as a token of love (dowry) to potential brides-to-be.

Roan antelopes 5.6 km squared sanctuary. Photo by Sitna Omar

On the other hand, the skin was used in burial ceremonies, and the horns were used for crafting musical instruments.

This was in the Lambwe region, Homa Bay County, where the habitat for one of Africa’s rarest roan antelopes is situated, the Ruma National Park, otherwise known as the “Last Retreat of the Roan Antelope.”.

However, Raphael Adada, an 85-year-old who has lived amidst the wild animals of Ruma Park for more than 40 years, now elucidates that there is no such tradition as antelope’s meat for dowry, saying he has never heard or witnessed such.

“I have never witnessed the killing of roan antelopes because it was very uncommon around here. If at all their meat was used as dowry, then I have no idea,” he explains.

Adada is among the residents within the Lambwe region who have watched these animals, which are locally known as omoro, in closer proximity and seen their interaction with fellow animals and humans every other day.

He lives behind Ruma National Park and has had numerous encounters with these animals in the past, whom he says are among other wild animals that used to graze on vegetation near his home.

The senior citizen was born in Kanyaluo region within Karachuonyo constituency but shifted to Lambwe in 1964, where he settled as a farmer with his children and late wife.

The locals in the areas near the park were farmers, hence, their crops were predisposed to destruction by wild animals as they frequented the area, a matter that forced many, including Adada, to spend nights in farms armed with weapons to keep them away.

This was two years before the park, which is located in the Lambwe Valley, was established as the Lambwe Valley Game Reserve in 1966.

He says before the fencing of the park, animals, including roan antelopes, would move around in groups searching for food as they came in and out of the park’s vicinity.

He says these antelope species would be seen in the company of buffaloes, whom he notes were ‘best friends’.

“Every time I would spot omoro, they would be in the company of buffaloes. The two were comfortable with one another in such a way that the omoro felt safer. It was rare to spot them without each other,” he says.

He adds that at no such time would roan antelopes be seen grazing with other animal species far from the park except the buffaloes, and if they were spotted alone, then they would be feeding close to the park.

“When going on a long journey, they traveled together with the buffaloes, and at no time would they be seen alone while traveling for long distances,” he says.

He narrates that roan antelopes were very fierce animals, and in case an attack was launched at them, they did not hesitate but to charge at the attacker without taking a break.

For the attacker to be safe, he had to climb the nearest tree to escape the attack, which would otherwise be fatal.

“Before attacking these antelopes, one would need to be near a tree to save himself by quickly climbing it if need be. When these animals charged at someone, they did not take a break at all,” explains Adada.

It is because of their fierce and violent nature that these antelopes are referred to as Africa’s fearless savanna survivors.

In cases of predator attack, adult roans, unlike other antelopes, usually take a stand and fight instead of running in fear.

He explains that it is uncommon for these endangered species to be killed by humans, adding that he has never witnessed their killings.

Named for their color, the roan antelopes have soft and smooth fur that is reddish grey to reddish brown, and it is for this reason that they can camouflage in their surroundings and keep themselves safe from predators.

Roan antelopes are large and powerfully built animals with horse-like physiques.

Its sheer size makes it a formidable force to reckon with, and it is also what differentiates it from other antelopes such as the impalas.

The roan antelope has long, sturdy limbs and a thick neck that looks thicker due to an upstanding mane and beard.

They have large hooves that support their long legs.

They have long and narrow heads and striking red and white clow-like facial masks with wide gape framed by long tasseled ears.

They have horns that curve backwards from the top of the head, and it is for this reason that they are dangerous even for the largest predator.

The males have thicker, sickle-shaped horns that are longer than the females.

Roans are both grazers and browsers, as they eat both grass and leaves, as well as shoots and young twigs, for survival.

These antelopes live in groups of 5 to 15 species, headed by a bull. The males are much heavier, with around 280 kilograms, while the females have an average of 260 kilograms.

They feed on short and tender grass and prefer open fields because they are sensitive and cannot survive well to any increase in the density of woody plants or a decrease in grass cover.

This is why they are only found in Ruma, which is their last remaining sanctuary, because it has savannahs, access to water, and rightly wooded grasslands.

These endangered animals drink a lot of water. That is the reason why the park’s management set up water troughs within the roans’ sanctuary, which covers an area of 5.6 kilometers square.

The gestation period of the roans is about 40 weeks, with only one calf born at a time.

After birth, mothers keep their young ones from the herd for six weeks until they are strong enough to join the herd.

This exposes them to predators, as many of the young ones are always preyed on by hyenas.

Their sexual maturity is at two years, and they have a lifespan of about 17 years in the wild.

When they come of age, young males separate from the herd and form distinct groups.

These roan antelopes are relatively rare, hence endangered.

The roans have been eliminated from parts of their former range as they lost their habitat because of human activity like agriculture and road construction.

Back in 1976, there were a total of 202 roan species, but over time, the number decreased to 16 in 2019 due to factors like poaching, hunting for meat, skin, and horns, and predators.

Before 2012, these animals were highly accessible to poachers because of an established public road and a footpath that cut across it.

Monitoring of the animals and patrolling at that time was not adequate, enabling poachers to take advantage of the situation.

The declining number of these antelopes was a major concern, hence, Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) partnered with the Safaricom Foundation and the Northern Rangelands Trust in an effort to conserve them.

The partnership has since developed strategies to ensure these animals are cared for and increase in number.

An 8.6-kilometer boundary fence was hence set up around the roan sanctuary to keep predators out as well as limit human encroachment, courtesy of the foundation, which injected Sh. 17 million to achieve that milestone.

The move was also to keep hyenas and leopards at bay.

The sanctuary covers an area of 5.6 kilometers squared.

In 2022, Ruma National Park acquired nine species from Tanzania in a bid to increase its population.

The nine were introduced to solve the problem of inbreeding, which is also a challenge, by boosting the breeding patterns of these animals.

David Oyugi, a warden at Ruma National Park, explains that KWS took the decision to separate these two species for some time because of the antelope’s fierce nature.

“They can be very aggressive when threatened, and in this case, these animals felt the presence of those from Tanzania would threaten their dominance,” says the warden.

“When the two were confined together at first, there was hostility between them, and so we had to separate them for some time to adapt to their new environment,” he adds.

The conservation partnership has led to the direct employment of eight people from the community whose tasks are to monitor the animals, maintain the vegetation around the sanctuary, and set up fire breaks.

Their total population at the Ruma to date is 25 species, with plans to nurture its population to a total of 150 animals in the future.

By Sitna Omar

Leave a Reply