The Sahelo-Saharan desert and savannah area of northern Africa is larger than the surface of all of Australia (7.7 million km²). The expansion of the desert in this region is a problem of global concern. The reasons are, inter alia, overgrazing, agricultural activities, and overexploitation of vegetation for domestic use, including overuse of trees and bushes as fuelwood (UNEP, Atlas of Desertification, 1992). As a consequence, soil degradation by wind and water are affecting the land’s fertility.
Going hand in hand with this development, the region has almost entirely been cleared from many of the indigenous Antelopes. Five of them, Oryx dammah, Addax nasomaculatus, Gazella dama, Gazella leptoceros and Gazella cuvieri are in immediate danger of extinction, and a sixth one, Gazella dorcas, is in serious decline.
These species are excellent indicators for the overuse of natural resources by their direct overexploitation and, indirectly, land degradation. Additionally, they could be an important component of an environmentally sound re-establishment of large areas.
Their reintroduction into the wild would have ancillary benefits for the re-establishment of vegetation because, unlike livestock, they do not destroy the grass, but are important distributors of seeds of grass and other plants. They are well adapted to their surroundings, can stand long periods of drought, and are less sensitive than livestock against shortage of food and water. In addition, as examples from southern African regions prove, they could eventually be used economically: their meat is delicate and their skin can be processed into fine leather.
The species are very attractive. They could become an important factor for the development of tourism, both for hunters and photographers. Not the least, once fully recovered, the populations could, and should, become again an important source for the food supply of the local people.
Antelopes are migratory, travelling large distances and disregarding political boundaries. Hence, they are a shared natural resource of the respective Range States. This implies common rights to the animals’ sustainable use and a common obligation for their conservation. Antelopes are an important component of the regions biological diversity. The species’ reintroduction in the wild would support the survival or reestablishment of many plant and animal species. Also, as indicated above, they could be useful indicators for the combat against desertification.
The Convention for the conservation of Migratory Species
(Bonn Convention also called CMS) brought together, twice, experts from the sahelo saharan States from the distribution area of these antelopes as well as international experts in order to promote debates on the restoration of threatened antelopes of the area
(Djerba-Tunisia,1998; Agadir-Morocco, 2003 and in 2010 probably in Lybia).
The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (IRScNB) initiated this ambitious project”.