Our quest for the elusive mountain bongo

The Bongo Surveillance Project is a non-government organisation, with charitable trust status in Kenya

BSP founder, Mike Prettejohn, is one of the few people in Kenya who has over 80 years of in depth knowledge and experience of the high forests and their wildlife. He has studied the bongo for over 60 years.

“In 2003, I was approached by the then Aberdare Park Warden, John Muhanga, who said “We seem to have had no Bongo sightings in the Aberdares. Our last groups seen were at the Ark in 1988. Do you believe the Bongo have become extinct?” Alarm bells were ringing. This beautiful antelope in the wild, so proudly discovered, admired and reported to all in the early 1900 via The Times, was no longer being observed in the wild. This was the start of the Bongo Surveillance Project and has evolved to be my latter lifetime quest”. – Mike Prettejohn

Early days

Mike believed the Bongo still existed, so he set up a surveillance program with local trackers. With the help of KWS and some funds, the trackers found evidence of the Bongo’s existence through dung analysis. Peter Mwangi, former Head Tracker and now honorary member, honed his mountain bongo expertise since the 1970s when he captured them for export. Along with other experienced trackers, he transitioned from hunting to conservation, using their skills to save Kenya’s iconic forest antelope.

The team began mapping areas with Bongo food plants, and captures their first bongo photo in 2005. With more trap cameras and GPS equipment, they were able to further identify Bongo areas and prove their existence. As a result, the Mountain Bongo was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list in 2008. The BSP surveillance program continues to explore high forests in Kenya where Bongos are known to exist.


At present, our focus is on monitoring and protecting the dwindling population of mountain bongos in different location of Kenya. While starting from the Aberdares (specifically in the Salient and Kanjwiri), our efforts now extend to the Mau Forest Complex – which includes the Maasai Mau Forest in the north-east of the Maasai Mara national Reserve, the Mt. Kenya forest and the Eburu forest.

Recognising the important of community involvement in conservation efforts, BSP established the School Wildlife Clubs and development projects for the local communities. We collaborate with 22 schools on education , sustainability and environmental initiatives.

The Mountain Bongo Diary – BSP HIGHLIGHTS

Throughout the 1960s, professional hunting was permitted in limited quantities in specific areas such as Cherenganis, the Mau Forest, The Aberdares, and Mount Kenya, with a maximum of 20 licenses issued annually. After banning hunting in 1977, the Kenya Game Department suggested there were approximately 500 mountain bongo in the Aberdare region in the 1980s. However, this figure may have been overestimated due to the lack of advanced technology for accurate counting. The Mountain Bongo population faced a sharp decline in the 1980s due to their capture for export to zoos worldwide, leading to many becoming lost during transportation. Furthermore, the wild population has been impacted by rinderpest outbreaks, poaching, attacks by predators like hyenas, and habitat destruction.

The mountain bongo was believed to be on the brink of extinction in the wild, with the last sighting of a wild mountain bongo occurred at The Ark Lodge in 1988, in the heart of the Aberdares. 

The Kenya Wildlife Service has tasked Mike Prettejohn with investigating the status of the bongo, due to his exceptional knowledge of the Kenyan high forests and first-hand tracking skills. This decision stems from concerns about extinction in the wild and the need to protect vulnerable species like the bongo.

The BSP Team was established with the purpose of locating any surviving bongo and tracking their movements. After confirming the presence of bongo in the Aberdares through surveillance and capturing the first trap camera photo of a wild bongo, the team expanded their efforts to Mt Kenya, the Mau, and Eburu. It was estimated that there were less than 70 bongo left in the wild in Kenya at that time. In order to support conservation initiatives, the Rhino Ark Fence was completed in the Aberdares to protect the remaining bongo population. Additionally, 18 Bongo were brought back from the USA to the Mt Kenya Wildlife Conservancy by the RSCF and their USA partners.

BSP successfully secured a grant from UNDP to establish wildlife clubs and was honored with the Conservation Award from Michael Weheke of the East Africa Wildlife Society. Furthermore, the first individual calf was discovered in the Aberdares region.

The mountain bongo is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN List. Research conducted by BSP indicates that there are less than 50 mountain bongo remaining in total, with most of the population located in Aberdare, Mau, Eburu, and Mt Kenya.

KWS launched and led the IUCN/SCC Conservation Strategy Plan Workshop involving 20 agencies. In collaboration with RSCF, a breeding program for Bongo in the USA is also planned. Exciting news from BSP surveillance revealed the identification of a Bongo in Maasai Mau and in the Salient (Aberdare). However, no individual is sighted in South West Mau and in Kanjwiri.

The Bongo Wildlife Clubs, the community engagement program by BSP, have expanded from 4 to 24 clubs, now encompassing Aberdare, Mt Kenya, SW Mau, Massai Mau, and Eburu forests.

Rhino Ark finished the construction of the forest fencing in Eburu.

The International Zoos’ Bongo Studbook was published, with records for over 500 Bongo currently in captivity.

While no individuals were captured on camera traps in Eburu and Mt. Kenya, the KWS Bongo Task Force has implemented the Mountain Bongo Recovery Strategy. However, the task force’s activities have been delayed from 2020 to 2023 due to the Covid pandemic.

The Bongo Surveillance Project Review Book was published, uncovering that 30 individual calves have been identified in the Aberdare region.

Local stakeholders have established a private trust to secure the land in Ragati (Mt Kenya)  for the “Rewilded” Bongo Programme to begin.

The release of The Bongo Surveillance Project Review Book showcases a remarkable discovery in the Aberdare forest: a total of 53 calves, signaling a significant 57% growth in just four years. This growth highlights the potential positive impact of heightened security measures in the area.

A new millennium

In collaboration with our partners, we are actively involved in reintroducing additional mountain bongos to these areas to secure their future and promote a sustainable population. Indeed, while the Bongo groups in Aberdare and Maasai Mau are thriving, those in Eburru and Ragati Mt. Kenya are struggling due to a lack of genetic diversity.


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Sangare Conservancy, Mweiga, Aberdare National Park, Kenya

We are grateful to our international and local partners, as well as individual contributors, for the photos used on this website. Thank you for your support.