The hirola (Beatragus hunteri, sometimes Damaliscus hunteri), also known as Hunter's hartebeest, is an antelope species found in arid grassy plains in a pocket on the border between Kenya and Somalia. It is the only member of the genus Beatragus.
Hirola are known as the "four-eyed antelope," due to their large preorbital glands. Hirola stand 100 to 125 centimetres at the shoulder and weigh 80 to 118 kilograms. Their coat is a sandy brown colour, greyer in males than females, with a lighter underbelly and a small white strip over the bridge of the nose. The nape of the neck has very thick skin which forms ridges when the ears are pricked up. The horns are lyre shaped and very conspicuously ringed.
They are diurnal and spend the mornings and evenings grazing. Herds contain from two to forty females led by one territorial male but bachelor herds of five or so males are common. Herds do not move much as the males leading them are very territorial. When fighting, males drop onto their knees, but when wrestling, they remain on all fours.
Status and conservation
Hirola are critically endangered. There are between 500 and 1200 animals in the wild and none currently in captivity. Counts in the 1970s found around 14,000 animals and another count in the 1980s found 7000 animals. The hirola's decline is believed to have been brought on by competition with cattle as well as the drought which has plagued the region.
In late 2005, four local communities in the Ijara District have, in collaboration with Terra Nuova, developed and put forward a proposal to formally establish the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy for the in situ protection of hirola.
In January 2010, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy (IHCC), was funded by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service and USAID-Kenya, to conduct a survey to estimate the remaining population of this species in its natural range. The survey was undertaken by three 2-seater and one 4-seater aircraft, counting teams, ground crews and GIS experts. The survey found only three areas with significant numbers of hirola. After 8 days of searching, only 245 hirola were counted from the air. While this is likely to be a slight undercount (this was verified by comparing ground and aerial counts in Ishaqbini) it is believed that there aren’t any other large herds or significant concentrations of hirola remaining in their natural range.
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Beatragus hunteri. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of critically endangered.
- Grubb, P. (2005). "Order Artiodactyla". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 675. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. http://www.bucknell.edu/msw3/browse.asp?id=14200507.
- Madar, A; Nadeau, M, eds. (2010). "Southern Kenya". Frommer's Kenya and Tanzania. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, Inc.. pp. 102–125. ISBN 978-0-470-28558-9. http://books.google.com/?id=eIY2Hi2wNNsC&pg=PA119&lpg=PA119&dq=%22four-eyed+antelope%22#v=onepage&q=%22four-eyed%20antelope%22&f=false.
- "Protection for 'weirdest' species". BBC. 2007-01-16. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6263331.stm. Retrieved 2007-05-22.
- News story about the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered project (EDGE)
- Muchai, M. et al. (2007) The Distribution, Abundance and Habitat Use of the Hunter's Hartebeest (Hirola); Beatragus hunteri; Sclater, 1889 in Ishaqibini Community Wildlife Conservancy and Arawale National Reserve, Kenya. National Museums of Kenya.
- Andaje, S. A. (2002) Factors limiting the Abundance and Distribution of Hirola in Tsavo and Tana River Districts. Kenyan Wildlife Service: Biodiversity Conservation Unit.
- Muchai, M. et al. (2007) The Distribution, Abundance and Habitat Use of large and medium sized mammals in Ishaqbini Community Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya. National Museums of Kenya.