Good News and Bad News from the Sahara

Addax antelope (Photo: Thomas Rabeil/Sahara Conservation Fund)
26/05/2016
Good News and Bad News from the Sahara
post by
Sigrid Maebe

The reintroduction of the Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah) in Chad is a very positive development for the species.  Unfortunately, in the meantime, regional insecurity and oil industry activities in the Sahara desert have pushed the Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) to the very knife-edge of extinction in Niger.

Roseline C. Beudels-Jamar, RBINS’ conservation biologist and specialist on the conservation of megafauna in the Sahara, as well as the Scientific Councillor from Belgium to the Convention of Migratory Species, brings us good and bad news from the Sahara.

Oryx are back in Chad

In Chad, twenty-five Scimitar-horned Oryx have just been shipped from Abu Dhabi meaning that after an absence of a quarter of a century, Oryx are back on Chadian soil.

The civil war which ravaged the country between 1979 and 1982 and a partial invasion by armed forces from Libya had devastating consequences for the country’s Oryx which accounted for the majority of the world’s population of 5,000 animals. Neighbouring Niger’s Oryx are presumed to have died out in the 1980s as a result of drought and hunting.  The last wild specimen, an adult male, was killed in 1989.

High level political support from Chad’s president and the backing of the United Arab Emirates and partners such as the European Union and the African Parks Network give grounds for some optimism that the animals just released will not suffer the same fate as the others!

Imminent extinction of Addax in Niger

In 2012, the government of Niger established the Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve to protect the world’s last viable remaining population of Addax, a migratory species of desert-adapted antelope. The reserve was created thanks to the efforts of the Sahara Conservation Fund, a close partner to RBINS and the Convention on Migratory Species in the battle to save the Sahelo-Saharan wildlife. At the time of the designation of the reserve, we could all be safely optimistic that we were on right track to save the Addax from extinction.

Then came massive disturbance caused by oil exploration. Three surveys conducted recently, including an aerial survey, only found a handful of Addax. Oil exploration and exploitation, conducted by the Chinese National Petroleum Society, coupled with the proven illegal hunting of Addax by the military detachments seconded to the petroleum camps for their protection, are without doubt the major causes for the absence of Addax. On top of this, the breakdown of law and order in Libya brought huge numbers of all-terrain vehicles in the area. Poaching of all species is on the increase, weapons abound and the local population, with whom the reserve staff has mostly good relations, is largely powerless to do anything but report incidents back.

This species is simply unable to cope with the current levels of disturbance and illegal killing. Without urgent coordinated action at all levels we will very soon witness the demise of this desert icon from the wild.

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