Norfolk reserve founder in Africa for launch of wildlife sanctuary

mountain bongo

Some of the first mountain bongo to be released at the new sanctuary in Kenya - Credit: Watatunga

The founder of a Norfolk wildlife reserve dedicated to preserving the world's rare deer and antelope has been in Kenya to see endangered mountain bongo released into a sanctuary.

Ed Pope set up the Watatunga reserve at Watlington, near King's Lynn, to help safeguard rare species.

They include the mountain bongo, of which fewer than 100 survive in the wild.

mountain bongo

Mountain bongo at the Watatunga reserve, near King's Lynn - Credit: Watatunga

Mr Pope travelled to Africa as conservationists released five of the antelopes, which are native to the equatorial forests of Kenya, into the 776 acre Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary in the foothills of Mount Kenya, the first bongo sanctuary in the world.

“I felt incredibly honoured to be present as a guest of the patron Humphrey Kariuki following his visit to west Norfolk last year," said Mr Pope.  

"I hope that one day, with the help of international stud books and conservationists around the world, we can work together to ensure the iconic mountain bongo does not become just another tragic statistic  - extinct in the wild."

Ed Pope

Watatunga founder Ed Pope in Kenya - Credit: Watatunga

"The opening of Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary is thanks to many private individuals and conservation bodies that have worked together for the greater good of a species.

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"It is very exciting that the work we are doing at Watatunga has been recognised as having a positive impact on this magnificent species." 

The animals' release is the culmination of a breeding and rewilding program that began in 2004, which aims to have 50-70 fully rewilded bongo in the sanctuary by 2025, and 750 by 2050, according to the Kenyan government.

Watatunga Wildlife Reserve hopes to collaborate, with the approval of the studbook and other stakeholders, to ensure the survival of this fantastic species.

Mountain bongos once roamed widely in large numbers, but the few remaining animals, live in isolated pockets of forest scattered around Kenya.

Last year, Watatunga celebrated the birth of its first bongo calf. Other species on the 170-acre site near the A10 include Malayan sambar, hog deer, barasingha and the great bustard, a bird which became extinct in the UK in 1832.