Oregon Zoo celebrates a bouncing baby bontebok, A conservation success story
The Oregon Zoo welcomed a rare African bontebok calf this spring, the latest chapter in what’s considered one of history’s most inspiring conservation success stories. The calf was born April 1 to Winter, an 8-year-old bontebok in the zoo’s Africa savanna area. Once he’s a little older — and the weather’s a little warmer — he’ll begin venturing outside with the other bonteboks.
“This cute little guy is living proof of the impact people can have if we work together for wildlife,” said Kelly Gomez, who oversees the zoo’s Africa section. “A couple hundred years ago, the species was headed for almost certain extinction.”
Though unfamiliar to most Americans today, the bontebok “deserves a place in the annals of conservation history,” according to The Nature Conservancy.
“It is arguably the first African animal saved from human-caused extinction,” said Matthew L. Miller, writing in the conservancy’s science blog. “Its rescue is flat-out one of the most dramatic conservation success stories anywhere.”
The bontebok was hunted to the brink of extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries by Dutch settlers to southern Africa, many of whom viewed the native antelope there as pests competing for farmland.
By 1837, all that stood between the last 17 bontebok on the planet and certain annihilation was a fence. That year, some sympathetic farmers enclosed the herd safely inside their own property, effectively creating the first African antelope preserve.
The measure wouldn’t have worked except for one evolutionary quirk: While other antelope species like the impala, eland and kudu practically fly — soaring 10 feet into the air or higher — bontebok can only manage small leaps and could thus be contained by ordinary livestock fencing.
“The ability to jump,” Miller said, “would have been a leap into extinction.”
In 1931, Bontebok National Park was established, and the species gradually started to rebound.
“It’s an incredible conservation story,” Gomez said. “And hopefully, we can inspire more successes like this for the future.”
If you want to see the baby bontebok, visit bit.ly/babybontebok. To plan your zoo trip, go to oregonzoo.org/visit.