Hunter's hartebeest is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN (1996), with fewer than 400 living individuals. Counts in the 1970's estimated the hirola population to be close to 14,000 animals, but by 1983, only about 7,000 were believed to exist. Competition with domestic cattle is thought to have played a large role in this decline, although severe drought and poaching are also factors.
This antelope has recently become very rare, with current censuses reporting fewer than 400 individuals. Only one hirola exists in captivity: an aging female at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Hunter's hartebeest occupies a unique taxonomical position, with some authors classifying it as a mere subspecies of topi, while others place it in a separate genus Beatragus. More often, however, the hirola is placed in the subgenus Beatragus, which both allies it with the topi and accentuates its uniqueness. This species is thought to be the evolutionary link between true hartebeests and the sassabies (genus Damaliscus). As such it is a relic species, and only exists today (barely) due to its unique habitat requirements. Another name for this antelope is the "four-eyed antelope", due to its pronounced, dark-coloured preorbital glands, which are enlarged when excited. Damalis (Greek) a young cow, a heifer; -iscus (Latin) diminutive suffix. H. C. V. Hunter (1861-1934), a big game hunter and zoologist, discovered this antelope in 1888 about 240 km / 150 miles up the Tana River in Kenya.
The hirola is restricted to small areas in south Somalia and south-eastern Kenya , and has been introduced in Tsavo National Park (East, 1988). Its distribution map is based on data from East (1988), as suggested by Dr. R. East ( 23 June '97 ).
Categorical-discrete (CD) distribution model
Confined to a strip of arid grasslands with sparse bushes or trees between the Acacia bushland hinterland and the coastal forest mosaic (East, 1988; Bunderson, 1978; Kingdon, 1997).