Interesting Facts About Hirola: “Four-Eyed Antelope”

Hirola (also known as Hunter’s antelope or Hunter’s hartebeest) is a critically endangered antelope species that lives on the border between Kenya and Somalia. Hirola is the Somali name for this antelope.
Originally, Hirola was known as Hunter’s antelope after the big game hunter, H. C. V. Hunter discovered it in 1887.
Hirola not only looks as though it’s wearing spectacles with white frames, but it also has the distinction of having huge pre-orbital glands that give the impression of having two sets of eyes. That is why it’s highly recognizable by its facial appearance.
The global hirola population is estimated at 300 to 500 animals. The wild population continues to decline, and there are no hirola in captivity. Like all antelope, the hirola belongs to the family Bovidae that includes buffalo, bison, cattle, goats, and sheep. Also, like most antelope, hirola has been hunted mercilessly. It’s the only extant member of the genus Beatragus. Although Kenya banned hunting of hirola in 1997, the butchery continues.
There has been a dramatic drop in their population since the 80s despite the ban. They have ceased to exist altogether in Somalia.
Currently, there are only 500 hirola left in the wild even though it was recorded then as being 14,000 strong.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List “The loss of the Hirola would be the first extinction of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in modern human history.”
Let’s now look at some interesting facts about Hirola you probably didn’t know:
1. In January 2010, the USAID-Kenya and United States Fish & Wildlife Service funded the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy (IHCC), and Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), to carry out a survey to estimate the remaining population of Hirola in its natural range. The survey revealed only three areas with substantial numbers of hirola. It’s believed that there are no significant concentrations or large herds of hirola remaining in their natural range.
2. After giving birth, the female hirola will rejoin a nursery herd comprising of females and their calves. Nursery herds number from five to forty even though the mean herd size is seven to nine. An adult male usually accompanies them.
Females give birth alone and may remain separate from the herd for up to 2 months, making them vulnerable to predation.
3. The Hirola is a slender antelope weighing between 80 and 118 kgs (176 – 260 lbs) and with a body length between 1.2 and 2 m (3.9 – 6.6 ft), and a tail length between 10 and 60 cm (3.9 – 23.6 inches).
4. Hirola have white ears tipped with black, a thin white tail, and a white stripe that runs from eye to eye over their forehead. Their coat is sandy brown with a pale underside. But sometimes males have a grey coloration.
5. Hirola’s horns have bold, conspicuous rings. The horns can reach up to 28 inches (70 cm) in length. Both males and females have well-developed lyre-shaped horns.
6. Hirola are selective feeders, only feeding on short, newly sprouted grass. They feed on grasses and forbs and can go for long periods without water. They’re active during the day with most activity being in the mornings and evenings when they graze.
7. When males are play fighting, they will remain on all four legs, as opposed to dropping to their knees in a serious fight when defending their territory and their females.
8. Male Hirola will only breed when they can compete with other males successfully that’s usually when they’re three to four years old. On the other hand, females reach sexual maturity at two to three years of age.
9. Hirola are sometimes known as the “four-eyed antelope” because they’ve enlarged preorbital glands beneath their eyes.
10. Hirola’s habitats range from open grassland with light bush to wooded savannahs with scattered trees and low shrubs; most often on sandy soils. It’s adapted to arid environments with an annual rainfall of 300 to 600mm. Despite the arid environments they inhabit, Hirola appear to survive independently of surface water.

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