Challenges Of Sahelo-Saharan Antelope Reintroductions: Depletion In The Wild Vs Abundance In Captivity

The conservation community is facing a paradox related to the difficulties of reintroducing and/or reinforcing some species which are declining and disappearing in the wild while the number of individuals keeps increasing in captivity and overpopulation is becoming an issue, e.g.: Scimitar-horned Oryx and addax in zoos and private collections.

Based on the IUCN guidelines for reintroduction of antelope species, it is recommended to build up the most viable world herd by selecting individuals from captivity according to the studbooks and avoid genetic bottle neck. However, many challenges will come out while creating a world herd. Indeed, the lack of collaborative platform amongst zoos over the world is one big challenge and between zoos and private owners is another one.

The C2S2 (Conservation Centers for Species Survival ) initiative in United States appears to be an effective solution but it could be even more effective if it was extended to the rest of the world. The increasing restrictions about wildlife transportation from a continent to another one is also a major impediment to create suitable world herd. At last, the difference of objectives between zoos and conservation organizations is another constraint. Everybody agrees on the fact that species are declining in the wild and conservation in situ and ex-situ are both necessary. Nevertheless, the devil is in the details and while the zoo community will favor subspecies conservation for exhibition purpose, conservation organizations will favor genetic diversity to maximize resilience in a reintroduction context.

We hope the upcoming workshop dealing with Dama gazelle conservation which will take place in Al Ain Zoo by the end of this year, will bring solutions and will enable immediate actions to save this species in the wild. While experts keep arguing about the right thing to do, species are going extinct. Unfortunately, time is not on the side of conservation and swift action is needed to save what remains from extinction.

By Thomas Rabeil, SCF Regional Program Officer