Hirola (Beatragus hunteri)

Also known as: Hunter’s antelope, Hunter’s hartebeest
Synonyms: Damaliscus hunteri, Damaliscus lunatus hunteri
GenusBeatragus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 120 - 200 cm (2)
Weight80 - 118 kg (2)

The hirola is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Numbers of this rare antelope have recently drastically declined and the species is now in danger of imminent extinction (2). As the sole surviving species of the once abundant Beatragus genus (3), the hirola’s extinction would mean not only the loss of a species, but also the loss of an entire ancient antelope group. Discovered in 1888 by the big game hunter and zoologist H.C.V. Hunter (4), the hirola is a sandy-coloured antelope with long legs, body and face and a short neck. Male hirolas turn slate-grey as they age (2). The face is characterised by white ‘spectacles’ around the eyes linked by a narrow, white chevron (2) (5), and pronounced, dark scent-glands under the eyes become enlarged when excited, leading to the hirola’s other name of ‘four-eyed antelope’ (4). The lyrate, heavily-ringed horns are beautiful but dangerous weapons, used in fights with rivals. The thick skin at the nape of the hirola’s neck folds up behind the horns when the ears are pricked, offering a degree of protection against the sharp horns of an opponent. The black-tipped ears and long tail are startlingly white (2).

The hirola is endemic to north-east Kenya and south-west Somalia. Its range has been shrinking since the 1960s and it may now be extinct in Somalia. There is a small introduced population in Tsavo East National Park (2).

The remaining hirolas inhabit a narrow strip of seasonally arid, grassy plains (2).

The Critically Endangered hirola is a grazing antelope that can be found feeding most intensively on the grassy plains in the early morning and evening, using its large molars to chew the coarse grass. Like many other mammals inhabiting the hot, dry plains of Africa, the hirola can go for long periods without drinking, and survives drought by storing fat and avoiding unnecessary energetic activity (2).

Numbers of hirola have declined severely, from 10,000 in the 1970s, to an estimated 500 to 2,000 in 1995 to 1996; numbers have fallen by 85 to 90 percent since 1980 (2). Competition with cattle, severe drought, disease and poaching are all factors that have contributed to devastating hirola populations (3) (4). Unfortunately, the hirola’s preference for areas that are used by livestock puts them at increased risk from diseases like rinderpest and tuberculosis (3).

In 1963, 10 to 20 hirola were released into Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, which grew to a population of 79 individuals by 1996. In 1996, another 29 hirola were translocated into the Tsavo East population, resulting in an estimated population of 100 hirola in Tsavo East National Park (6). The Hirola Management Committee (HMC) was also formed in 1994, with the aim of conserving this species in their natural range.  The HNC created the Hirola Strategic Management Plan which outlined hirola conservation measures for the next five years (7). This included creating protected areas, reducing exposure to livestock diseases, careful monitoring, and promoting income generating eco-tourism for this unique species (7); measures that will hopefully pull this beautiful antelope back from the edge of extinction.

For further information on the hirola and its conservation see:

Authenticated (24/03/10) by Dr David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2009)
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Limited, London.
  3. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Ultimate Ungulate (September, 2007)
  5. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. Kenya Wildlife Service (September, 2007)
  7. Hirola Management Committee (September, 2007)