Winner avatar
2020 Whitley Award
Abdullahi Hussein Ali Kenya Terrestrial
A landscape level approach to conserve the hirola antelope


The hirola is arguably the world’s rarest antelope: Critically Endangered, they are among the top ten species at risk of imminent extinction and inhabit the precarious Kenya-Somalia border outside of formally protected areas. They have declined by over 95% in the last four decades, with fewer than 500 individuals remaining. Their extinction would mark the first loss of an entire mammalian genus in over 80 years, representing an irreplaceable portion of evolutionary history that could disappear forever.


Growing up in the region, Ali founded the Hirola Conservation Programme to partner communities and preserve this unique species firsthand. Working with pastoralists, he will introduce a planned grazing system to minimise the spread of disease between hirola and livestock and avoid overgrazing of grasslands. Rangers will be trained to restore degraded habitat and use standardised field monitoring methods for hirola, with a centralised database to assimilate information.


To ensure their long-term persistence, Ali will work to reinstate the 500km2 Arawale National Reserve and strengthen the overarching institutional framework across all hirola conservancies to align conservation efforts and build vital capacity. Regular patrols will protect the antelope from poaching and benefit other wildlife, such as elephants and giraffes. His team will also reach over 6,000 children and adults through education to improve awareness of the species and its conservation status. Ali is a local hero, working towards a peaceful future for hirola and the people.

Ali and his team will:

  • Strengthen the institutional framework to support protected areas governance and re-establish Arawale National Reserve
  • Introduce livestock grazing systems across 3 conservancies to prevent overgrazing of the grasslands on which hirola rely
  • Restore 1,000 ha of degraded hirola habitat in 4 conservation areas
  • Standardise hirola monitoring protocols and streamline data management


  • Often referred to as a living fossil, the hirola is 69th on the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals list
  • Most people in this area are nomadic pastoralists, with poverty rates estimated at >80%
  • Rarely seen with fewer than 500 in the wild, hirola are considered a symbol of good luck by indigenous communities.

“I see the hirola as my immediate relative; I feel a very strong obligation to act and put the hirola back into Noah’s ark.” – Abdullahi Hussein Ali

Follow Ali on social media @alihirola, and view more photos of his work here.

Film credits: AMISOM Public Information