There are perhaps just three remaining Saharan Addax surviving in the wild. The strikingly beautiful antelope that once roamed wide tracts of North Africa, from Algeria to Sudan, has been so heavily persecuted it may soon exist only in captivity, unless urgent action is rapidly taken. Researchers who undertook an extensive survey in March are calling for heavy protection to be deployed to guard the last remaining population, coupled with the potential reintroduction of Addax from captive stock.
“We are witnessing in real time the extinction of this iconic and once plentiful species – without immediate intervention, the Addax will lose its battle for survival in the face of illegal, uncontrolled poaching and the loss of its habitat,” explains Dr. Jean-Christophe Vié, the Deputy Director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. Despite being illegal to kill the animals, it seems that hunting of the Saharan Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) has driven them to the very edge of extinction.
In the last survey, researchers found 200 animals surviving. This number has dropped to just three. Thomas Rabeil/Sahara Conservation Fund
The last survey, in 2010, found around 200 of the animals roaming the deserts of the Sahara and brush of the Sahel. But a recent census in March this year saw an aerial survey cover 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles), during which they spotted not a single Addax. It was only after a ground team searched 700 kilometers (435 miles) of desert, and followed 10 kilometers (6 miles) of footprints, that they found just three nervous-looking Addax at the end of the trail.
One of the major factors in the antelopes' decline has been the civil unrest and upheaval in Libya in 2011. With the collapse of the government, militia took off into the desert with 4x4 cars and arms, often heading into regions containing significant wildlife populations. Other wars, such as the upheavals in Mali and Nigeria, have also had significant impacts on the antelope. But as if that wasn’t enough, oil installations, mainly in Niger and operated by China National Petroleum Corporation, have also caused significant harm. Soldiers posted to protect these sites have been known to illegally kill the Addax whenever they are spotted.
The path to extinction of the Addax is taking a depressingly familiar tone. Another species of iconic antelope, the scimitar-horned oryx, once numbered in their millions and ranged from the Atlantic coast to the River Nile until the 1990s when they were completely wiped out from the Sahara. Surviving in captive populations, the species was saved from the brink of extinction and is often used as an example of how captive breeding and conservation can work. Yet the animal still remains extinct across its historic range, and it seems that little has been learned as the Saharan Addax follows the same fate.
Their stronghold had been the Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve in Niger, which is the largest single protected area in the whole of Africa, home to important populations of other endangered wildlife, such as the Northwest African cheetah and dama gazelle. Experts have called for protection of this area to be ramped up. It is thought that there are at least 600 Addax kept in collections around the world, but these are spread from Europe to Israel to Australia. Paradoxically, the antelope are also bred by farms in Texas for sport hunting. It is hoped that these animals might be able to be returned to the wild to save the species.
Image in text: The Saharan Addax is well represented in captivity, such as here at the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Israel, and efforts will now be underway to breed them. MathKnight/Wikimedia commons