The world's rarest antelope has been fitted with GPS collars for the first time in the wild in a move that will allow conservation experts to monitor the species.
A total of nine hirola from seven different herds which were identified between the Boni Forest and the Tana River in north-eastern Kenya have been carefully captured and tagged, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said.
The GPS collars were fitted to at least one animal from each herd to gather vital information on population growth, movement and behaviour. There are believed to be just 400 to 500 hirola left in the wild following a fall in numbers of almost 90% in 30 years, and conservationists warn they continue to decline in the face of drought, predation, poaching and habitat loss.
Cath Lawson, co-ordinator of ZSL's EDGE conservation programme which focuses on protecting unusual species, said: "Hirola is an EDGE - evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered - species, one of the most unique and threatened animals on the planet.
"Over the past 30 years numbers have plummeted by almost 90% and they continue to decline."
Conservationists in the field worked with Kenya Wildlife Service and local people to identify hirola herds from their droppings and footprints.
ZSL EDGE fellow and University of Wyoming doctoral student, Abdullahi Hussein Ali, said: "Because of the elusive nature of the hirola, identifying herds for collaring was not an easy task.
"This particular habitat had also recently been hit by drought, so it made our job harder as it caused the hirola to disperse further in search of greener pastures."
The collars will drop off remotely in June 2014. The results will provide needed information on the hirola, which will be used to develop conservation efforts to save the antelope from extinction.
Mr Ali said: "GPS collars record one location every three hours throughout the year, and provide us with vital information on movement patterns which we wouldn't otherwise get."