Tales of the TailsAin’t No Party Like a Bongo Party

January 15, 2020

There’s no party like a bongo party here at the Virginia Zoo. You may have seen these antelopes with red coats and white stripes roaming the Africa-Okavango Delta exhibit.

There are two recognized subspecies of bongos: the lowland or western bongo, and the mountain or eastern bongo. Western bongos occupy the central and western parts in Africa while eastern bongos occupy the  mountainous areas of Africa, such as Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. These species may look the same, but eastern bongo males are actually 100 pounds heavier and may have brighter coats than their western cousins.

Bongos are the largest of forest antelopes weighing between 500 to 900 pounds, with horns that can grow as longs as 40 inches. Don’t let their size (or horns) fool you, these gentle giants are skittish. When frightened, they will run quickly through the underbrush, tilting back their spiraled horns to avoid getting tangled in the vegetation. Once they find cover, they will stand perfectly still to become virtually undetectable.

This non-territorial species finds safety in numbers and often gathers in groups. A herd typically features a group of females, juveniles and one alpha male. Sometimes herds will have more than one male that could include brothers and uncles, but these males will usually detach to find their own herds.

Western bongos are near threatened, but their eastern counterparts are considered critically endangered. Unfortunately there may be more eastern bongos in human care than in the wild with less than 200 roaming their native habitats in Africa. This species’ declining population is due mostly to habitat loss caused by illegal logging, but the antelope are also hunted and killed for their meat or to keep as trophies.

The Virginia Zoo participates in a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for eastern bongo managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Zoo is one of 38 North American zoos who together manage a captive population of around 130 animals to ensure we maintain a safe reservoir of animals to help support conservation of the species in the wild.

Currently there are six eastern bongos on exhibit at the Virginia Zoo – Bob, Betty, Juni, Charlie, Johnny and Boomer.

Bob, born April 26, 2015, came to the Virginia Zoo from the Atlanta Zoo in 2016. He loves to munch on browse but also enjoys a diet that consists of grain, alfalfa and a variety of produce including but not limited to carrots, sweet potatoes and apples. He also fancies a roll in the mud, pushing logs around and resting in the afternoon. Keepers say Bob is very sweet to them and loves scratches between his horns.

Betty, the eldest of the herd, was born July 1, 2005 and has lived at the Virginia Zoo since birth. She is the most dominant out of the females in the herd and likes to lay in a pile of straw. Betty is the only bongo with a pink nose, making her easy to spot.

Juni, Betty’s sister, was born at the Virginia Zoo on June 8, 2006. Juni enjoys banana peels and enrichment with browse. She is the least dominant adult out of the herd and is very motherly and takes care of all the babies.

Charlie was born December 26, 2018 at the Virginia Zoo. Charlie enjoys munching on browse and hanging out with the two other young bongos, Johnny and Boomer. Juni became a surrogate mom to Charlie when she was young and the two have kept the same close bond.

Johnny, our Christmas calf, was born December 25, 2018 at the Virginia Zoo. He is the son of Juni and Bob. Johnny likes to hangout with Charlie and enjoys browse, grains and produce. His coat is getting darker everyday and he is begging to look more like his dad, Bob!

Boomer, the youngest of the herd, was born April 5, 2019 at the Virginia Zoo. Since his birth, Boomer enjoys hanging out with Charlie and Johnny and loves to chomp on browse and produce.

During your next visit to the Virginia Zoo, try out our augmented reality tour! During this tour you can learn more about the Zoo’s eastern bongos and how we work to protect this species’ habitat along with other animals at the Zoo!