DUBAI // The UAE is poised to play a vital role in saving a rare African antelope from extinction through plans to establish a captive breeding programme in the region.
The eastern or mountain bongo is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It survives in just one isolated area in central Kenya.
Fewer than 100 animals remain in the wild, and they are threatened by poaching and logging.
Experts are holding talks about the proposed breeding programme in Dubai. There are 20 specimens in the region and 18 of these are in private collections in the UAE, so the participation of collectors here would be vital to the success of the venture.
The programme would involve sending animals between the wildlife centres to breed to boost the genetic strength and diversity of the captive population and increase the total number of animals.
The long-term aim would be to release captive-bred bongo in the wild. Experts believe if the wild population does not increase to at least 300 the species will die out within 20 years.
"We hope to get agreement on a regional collection plan," said Dr David Mallon, co-chair of the IUCN's specialist antelope group. "This is a technical term for managing all the bongos in the different collections in the region together, and the UAE is crucial.
"This means if somebody has two females but no male they can swap a female for a male, and so on among the collections. This would maximise the breeding efficiency and maximise genetic diversity."
Dr Mallon is participating in a two-day event called the Inter-regional Eastern Bongo Collection Workshop that continues today. The event is being hosted by Sharjah's Al Bustan Zoological Centre, which has a number of bongo.
Conservationists from Europe, the US, Africa and Australia are taking part, and they spent one of yesterday's sessions drawing up goals for the plan. There are 665 captive eastern bongo in 122 institutions around the world.
Meyer de Kock, Al Bustan's manager, said: "There are more of these animals in captivity than there are in the wild, and that's what is worrying us.
"There are breeding plans in Europe and America but we in the Middle East don't have a plan, so this is what we want to develop."
He said the next stage would be for the Middle East to work with collectors around the world. "We want to get our plan connected with other regions - where do we fit in?"
Stage three will involve linking up with conservation teams working with the wild population in Kenya.