Species Survival Plan
Tropical jungles with dense undergrowth
Leopard and man
Leaves, shoots and grasses
Originally Native To
42 - 51 inches at shoulder
525 - 880 lb.
Red chestnut coat, 10-15 vertical stripes; lyre-shaped horns in both sexes
Captivity 19 years
Solitary, in pairs or small groups of 9 or less; females and young
About Mountain Bongo
The mountain bongo, a striking coppery red antelope with white stripes, is shy and elusive. Most active at dusk and dawn, they will emerge at night to visit salt licks.
Also known as the eastern bongo, this is a flagship species of the mountainous forests of Kenya. Bongo live in herds in the densely forested mountainsides and meadows and feed on a variety of plants and fruits. Bongo use their prehensile tongue to grasp the vegetation they feed on.
They are the heaviest and most colorful African forest antelope. Strangely, the orange pigmentation in the bongo's coat rubs off quite easily and can cause rain running off of its body to be red/orange-tinted.
Also, the number of white stripes on each side of their body are rarely the same. There are usually 10-15 stripes per side.
Females are normally more brightly colored than males. Both males and females have spiraled, lyre-shaped horns.
The large ears are believed to sharpen hearing, and the distinctive coloration may help bongos identify one another in their dark forest habitats. They have no special secretion glands, so they rely less on scent to find one another than do other similar antelopes.
Despite their size, bongo are quite timid and easily frightened. They will run away after a scare - at considerable speed - and seek cover, where they stand still and alert with their backs to the disturbance. Their hindquarters are less conspicuous than the forequarters, and from this position, the animal can quickly flee.
In order to swiftly maneuver through the dense forest vegetation, bongos tilt their chin up, causing their horns to lie flat against their back. They take this position so frequently that older bongo often have bald spots on their back from the tips of their horns rubbing away the fur.
Population counts are sketchy, as these are very secretive animals. Even researchers who study these antelope often do not see them. Much of what is known about them comes from captive animals and studies at salt licks on the edge of forests.
Even as heavy animals, bongo are excellent jumpers. However, they prefer to go under or around obstacles.
There appears to be a female hierarchy in the herd. Female social grooming also indicates that females may stay together for long periods of time and establish a rank order. At Fossil Rim, as well as in the wild, a female leads the group, in single file, to water or food and will return in the same way.
Adult males of a similar size or age seem to try to avoid one another. Even though they are relatively nonterritorial, they will meet and spar with their horns in a ritualized manner.
Younger mature males most often remain solitary, although they sometimes join up with an older male. They seek out females only at mating time.
When they are with a herd of females, males do not coerce them or try to restrict their movements, as do other antelope. An excellent contrast to this at Fossil Rim is the behavior of blackbuck males, which constantly work to keep females away from other males and instead together in a harem.
Poaching, habitat destruction, and illegal trapping for food and skins have resulted in the decline of bongo populations. Hunting with dogs has also impacted this species.
Fortunately, there have been concerted conservation efforts over the last few decades to help protect the bongo. A robust captive population and full protection under the Kenyan Wildlife Service have helped increase bongo numbers in the wild.
Captive individuals from America have been used in the Bongo Repatriation Program. In January of 2004, the first captive bongos were moved to the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.
Females use traditional calving grounds restricted to certain areas. The newborn calf lies out in hiding for a week or more, receiving short visits by the mother to suckle it. Calves grow rapidly and are quickly able to accompany their mothers in the nursery herds.
At Fossil Rim, at least one bongo calf has been born each of the last several years. Bongo live in the Buffer Pasture - the second pasture you enter.
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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.