IUCN threat status:

Critically Endangered (CR)


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The hirola (Beatragus hunteri, sometimes Damaliscus hunteri), also known as Hunter's hartebeest or "Hunter's antelope", is an antelope species found in arid grassy plains in a pocket on the border between Kenya and Somalia. They were discovered in 1888 by the zoologist H.C.V. Hunter.[2] These antelopes were first recognized as a distinct taxon in 1989, it is the only extant member of the genus Beatragus.[3] According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List "The loss of the Hirola would be the first extinction of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in modern human history." [4]


Hirola are known as the "four-eyed antelope," due to their large preorbital glands.[5] Shoulder height 39-42 inches (115–123 cm). These animals have a head length of about 120 cm, and a body length of about 200 cm. The weight of these animals can range from 80 kg to 118 kg.[6] The horns on these animals can reach an impressive length of 70 cm, while the tail can be 10-60 cm in length.[7]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. The longevity of the hirola in the wild is not known. However, the longevity of hirola antelope in captivity is 10.2 years.[8]


They are diurnal and spend the mornings and evenings grazing. Herds are usually led by a dominant male hirola, with an accompaniment of up to 8 females where other males actively compete for. It is not uncommon, though, to see small groups of less dominant and younger males grazing together as well. While they generally travel in small herds, the larger herds can contain up to 40 to 50 hirola. The life expectancy of the hirola is unknown in the wild, but in captivity, it is around 10 years.[7]


Female hirola reach sexual maturity at 2-3 years of age. Males do not begin mating until they are able to compete with other hirola for a female mate, which is usually 3-4 years after birth. Mating season for hirola is generally around March-April. The gestation period of this group of creatures is around 7-8 months, with a single calf being born somewhere in October-November. Female hirola move away from the herd to give birth to their calf, and tend to stay away from the herd for another 2 weeks. While newborn hirola are able to stand and run around shortly after birth, this period of time away from the herd still leaves the mother and her calf vulnerable to predators such as lions and hyenas.[7]

Diet and habitat[edit]

Hirola are usually found in places that have plain grass and most of the population is found in Somalia and the border of Kenya. Their groups range from 2-40 which consists of the female, male, offspring and occasionally dominant male. Males that don't usually have a group to dominante usually lead a group of bachelor males.[7] The hirola population are selective grazers that primarily feeds on grasses and, consequently, the population inhabit fairly open and short grassland. [9] Like most creatures inhabiting the arid African climates, the hirola can go long periods of time without drinking water. During periods of drought, the hirola stores fat and avoids unnecessary energetic activities in order to preserve water.[10]


The species is in decline. 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.[11] The Hirola prefers areas that are used by livestock which puts them at increased risk from diseases like tuberculosis[12] Due to lack of protection they are also still very vulnerable to poaching. The population of hirola that reside in Tsavo park are also threatened by the relatively high density of carnivorous predators along with a greater diversity of wild herbivores than their natural habitat. [13] Known predators[14] include:

  • lions (Panthera leo)
  • African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus)
  • cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)
  • hyenas (Hyaeninae)
  • eagles (Accipitridae) [of newborns]
  • humans (Homo sapiens)

Population size and distribution[edit]

The hirola population has declined significantly, more than 80 percent since 1976. There is a recent estimate that the hirola population in Kenya to be about 1,500 animals, sparsely distributed through the area during the wet season. The hirola antelope population is largely limited to the border area between Kenya and Somalia. The hirola’s natural range has not changed fundamentally since its discovery, but was reported to be contracting as early as the 1970s. Its current range in Somalia is not known.[15] Group size of hirola antelope has been estimated to be between 1 and 20 individuals, with a mean of 6.1.[16] The Arawale National Reserve in Kenya, a wildlife area containing several threatened species, covers only about six percent of the Kenyan hirola population[16] In 1963, a small population of 30 was translocated to Tsavo East National Park outside the species' natural range, although the majority were believed to have died shortly after the move. In 1996 an additional 10 were translocated to Tsavo East. As a result there exists a sub-population of hirola outside its natural range.

Status and conservation[edit]

Hirola are critically endangered. There are between 500 and 1,200 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 7,000 animals. The hirola's decline is believed to have been brought on by competition with cattle and by the drought which has plagued the region.Hirola

Despite being one of the rarest antelopes, conservation measures for the hirola antelope have so far been marginal. The Arawale National Reserve was created in 1973 as a small sanctuary for the hirola but has been left unmaintained since the 1980s.[17]

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.

Another diseases that caused problems in the Hirola was the rinderpest cattle virus. Yet since the it had been declared a problem to cattle there have been efforts to wipe the virus since the 1900s. It was declared extinct in 2010 by the United Nations, with the last known case being in Kenya of 2002.[18]

The hirola was identified as one of the top-10 "focal species" in 2007 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project.[19] Scientists of EDGE have since placed collars onto hirola from the remaining herds in order to track their movement and the population stability of these herds.[20]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ http://www.arkive.org/hirola/beatragus-hunteri/
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ http://www.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/?11534/A-sanctuary-for-Hirola
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ http://www.arkive.org/hirola/beatragus-hunteri/
  7. ^ a b c d http://www.theanimalfiles.com/mammals/hoofed_mammals/hirola.html
  8. ^ http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Beatragus_hunteri/
  9. ^ Afr. J. Ecol.1999, Volume 37, pages 38–48
  10. ^ http://www.arkive.org/hirola/beatragus-hunteri/
  11. ^ Kenya Wildlife Service/Hirola Management Committee. 2004. Strategic Management Plan for the Hirola (Beatragus hunteri) 2004-2009.
  12. ^ Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  13. ^ The red list http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/6234/0
  14. ^ Olney,H. (2001)Beatragus hunterihirola. Animal Diversity Web at the University of Michigan. Museaum of Zoology retrieved from http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Beatragus_hunteri/
  15. ^ http://neaasg.org/neaasg/index.php/species/antelopes/beatragus-hunteri
  16. ^ a b http://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/proc07/papers/papers/pap_xx02.pdf
  17. ^ http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b5a46c45-63b2-4803-999d-db01bfc3174a%40sessionmgr15&vid=2&hid=16
  18. ^ NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/16/science/16pest.html?_r=0
  19. ^ "Protection for 'weirdest' species". BBC. 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  20. ^ http://www.liveviewgps.com/blog/rare-hirola-antelope-monitored-gps-tracking-technology/

Further reading[edit]


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