The hirola is known as the "four-eyed antelope" thanks to the distinctive preorbital glands under its eyes. It is also known as the rarest antelope in the world. Fewer than 500 members of this species remains in a tiny section of land in north-eastern Kenya. Facing an array of threats from habitat loss to poaching to climate change, the species is on the edge of extinction -- and if it goes, so too does the entire genus Beatragus, of which the hirola is the last remaining species.
Because of these threats and the need for conservation and study, the Zoological Society of London has taken part in a program to collar a total of nine individual hirola.
Cath Lawson, ZSL’s EDGE Programme coordinator says: "Hirola is an EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) species - one of the most unique and threatened animals on the planet. Over the past thirty years numbers have plummeted by almost 90 percent, and they continue to decline. As the sole representative of its group, the loss of the hirola would be the first extinction of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in more than 100 years."
After monitoring herds for 18 months, individuals from seven herds were selected and collared. The collars will record location data every three hours for the next year, when the collars will automatically drop off and be retreived by researchers, who will finally have access to important information that will reveal insights about population, behaviors and the movement of the herds, information that is nearly impossible to collect otherwise as the hirola is naturally an elusive animal.
Once the information is retrieved in summer of 2014 and analyzed, new insights can be made into the best ways to protect the remaining individuals and, with luck and great effort, perhaps spare the species from extinction.