Endangered African Bongo Born at Virginia Zoo

Herd continues to grow as part of Zoo’s Species Survival Plan

The Virginia Zoo is pleased to announce the birth of its first baby bongo in 2010! The female calf, named Emma, was born Monday, July 26, 2010.

“This new baby joins a herd that includes three juveniles born in 2009, an adult male and three adult females,” explains Zoo director Greg Bockheim. “It may seem as though we have an abundance of bongos, but in reality these forest antelope are highly endangered. Our bongo herd is managed through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) with the goal of preserving these magnificent animals. We are hoping that our other two adult females will have healthy babies this year, too.”

Wild bongos live in dense forests of Kenya and other regions of Africa, and their greatest predator is mankind. The wild population is rapidly diminishing as its home habitat is destroyed by human encroachment, and the animals are over-hunted for meat and for their horns. “The Virginia Zoo has participated in an AZA program to repopulate Kenya forests with bongo, by sending one of our captive born calves to a preserve in Africa to create a herd with other bongos from North American zoos,” says Bockheim. “The key to their survival, as with all species, is not only to build the population but also to protect their natural habitat so they can thrive.”

essie and babyBongos are the largest and heaviest type of forest antelope, standing over 50 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing between 460 to over 550 pounds. Their lifespan in captivity is 19 years. Females give birth to one calf a year and the gestation period is nine months.

Bongos’ beautiful chestnut coats with white stripes provide protective camouflage in the dappled shadows of the forest. These animals are timid and quite elusive in the wild. Most of our knowledge about their health and habits has been acquired by the zoo keepers who care for them in captivity. This understanding has been valuable to organizations creating protected preserves of Africa.

Essie and EmmaHerds are comprised of females and calves, while the males are more solitary. Bongos are most active at dawn and dusk, and a favorite activity is to wallow in mud. Although they are agile enough to jump obstacles, most bongos when startled 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.

“For Zoo staff, being able to work with and protect endangered animals is incredibly rewarding. We always are amazed to be able to see so many healthy animals in one dynamic herd,” says Bockheim. “We are proud to be part of one more SSP success story.”

The AZA’s SSP program manages breeding programs in accredited zoos to protect the genetic strength and diversity of species in order to promote the survival of endangered animals. The Virginia Zoo participates in 18 national and international SSP programs.