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Rare Eastern Bongo Born in Australian Zoo

Feb 24, 2015 04:11 PM EST

A rare eastern bongo, one of the world's rarest species of antelope, was recently born in an Australian zoo, officials announced this week.

Mother Djembe and father Ekundu of the Taronga Zoo in Sydney are the proud parents of the calf, which was born Feb. 8. The newborn, whose sex has yet to be announced, has been spending quality alone time with its mother before officially making its public debut at the zoo.

"Djembe is a fantastic, protective mother and cleaned the calf as soon as it was born," Tracy Roberts, an ungulate keeper at the zoo, told the Australian Associated Press. "The calf has already learnt to follow its mother around and was very curious and energetic when exploring its exhibit for the first time."

This birth is hailed as a great achievement considering that the eastern bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus ssp. isaaci) is a critically endangered species, according to the IUCN Red List. Only a few populations of this subspecies survive in rainforests across tropical Africa. Specifically, they are found in the Lowland Rain Forest of West Africa and the Congo Basin to the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan, the African Wildlife Foundation says.

The biggest threats that eastern bongos face are natural predators, including pythons, leopards and hyenas, but more importantly humans who have hunted them into near extinction.

"Every birth of a healthy calf is important, with fewer than 100 of these gentle animals left in the wild. Sadly Eastern Bongo numbers have collapsed due to poaching, disease and destruction of their native habitat in Kenya's highlands," Roberts added.

Conservationists hope that this new calf, which is part of the Australian breeding program aimed at preserving the species, is the first step towards recovery of the eastern bongo in the wild.

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