With the exception of a few small savanna populations, the North African ostrich has completely disappeared from its previously vast Sahelo-Saharan range. SCF’s North African Ostrich Recovery Project aims to provide the framework, resources and technical support to restore to the wild this highly-adapted desert race of ostrich in Niger.
As one of its first conservation projects undertaken in the Sahara-Sahel region, the North African Ostrich Recovery Project is fully part of SCF's DNA. SCF goal is to produce enough birds at its breeding facility in Kellé, Niger, to begin returning small numbers of ostrich safely to the wild.
The North African ostrich (Struthio c. camelus) is one of four extant sub-species of ostrich. It alone inhabits the harsh environment of the Sahara and bordering Sahel. A century ago this race of ostrich inhabited the entire periphery of the Sahara both north and south, a total of 18 countries; today its range has been reduced to just six. The North African ostrich is critically endangered and without urgent conservation action may soon follow its cousin the Arabian ostrich into extinction.
In November 2008, SCF began working with a local Nigerien wildlife organization – CERNK – to provide technical support and an improved ration to the ostriches they hold. During the two previous years these ostriches failed to produce any viable offspring. However, after an adjustment and recuperation period three female ostriches produced 49 eggs in 6 weeks. SCF has also assisted other local owners, including Niger’s National Zoo with their ostrich breeding.
SCF, The Saint Louis Zoo, the AZA Struthioniformes Taxon Advisory Group and CERNK decided to partner on a groundbreaking effort to save the endangered North African ostrich and aid its recovery in Niger.
SCF collaborates actively with Niger in their efforts to save the species. There are 4 captivity breeding sites for the species in Niger, amongst which Kellé's site, located in the South East of the country (near Zinder), offered the best potential to develop the infrastructures needed to develop new populations of North African ostriches. In 2011, Niger entrusted SCF with the management of the site. Today, SCF fully provides the human resources, food, infrastructures development needed for its functioning. In 2016, it assisted the government of Niger for the development of a national conservation strategy to increase the chances of a successful reintroduction (and in particular to encourage the exchange of ostrich and eggs between the different sites in order to increase the genetic pool). As part of this national strategy, SCF also supports the other sites with their food, caring, and monitoring of individuals.
Impressive results have already been achieved since SCF engaged in the project. There has been a significant increase in the number of individuals in each site, and well-established partnerships with the local private owners from the other sites in Niger have allowed the securing of the ostrich populations throughout the country. The project has recently entered a new phase with the identification of two release sites in Niger, one in the Tilala valley next to Kellé, and another one in the Gadabeji Biosphere Reserve in central Niger. The ultimate goal is to keep improving the breeding success rates of the birds and begin return individuals to the wild in small numbers on the horizon 2020.
A RAPID DECLINE
The North African Ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus) is facing a rapid ongoing decline over the past 50 years due to hunting for feathers and food, egg collection and habitat loss. However, the ostrich as a whole is still listed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN Red List. These sub-species are lumped together as Struthio camelus with the far more common black and blue-necked ostriches.
Beyond the conservation objectives, SCF and its partners are working to update the taxonomic status of this sub-species and to propose the North African ostrich be reclassified as a distinct species, like the Somali Ostrich. This taxonomic review is highly important since it would help raise more attention from the world conservation community and a larger public to the silent extinction of the North African ostrich.
IMPROVING CAPTIVE BREEDING
Over the last decade, the project has faced a series of issues like egg fertility, chick survival, predation by crows, etc. The ostrich is certainly not a domestic bird and does not breed easily in captivity. With dedication and motivation, SCF and its partners have tremendously improved the infrastructure, the ration, the handling and the cares over the past decade, to enable the reproduction of the birds in captivity through natural and artificial incubation.
INNOVATING & EXPERIMENTING
SCF is experimenting unique new facilities to increase the number of North African ostriches born in captivity at the breeding center of Kellé, Niger. The recent installation of a solar-powered hatchery and incubation unit on site should counterbalance the remoteness of Kellé's location by providing electricity, running water, and the technology needed for the artificial incubation. A satellite system has also been set up to enable internet connection and monitoring of the containers performance by US-based engineers.
"This project is a model-in-the-making of participatory, grassroots conservation and a catalyst for the conservation of other endangered species. It demonstrates and reinforces the fundamental relationship required between successful conservation action and the local people that drive, implement and sustain it."
Bill Houston - Vice-Chair of SCF
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SCF has been instrumental in raising awareness with the local community, in particular the young generations, and support for the development of the national strategy for the ostrich’s conservation.
Long-term success depends on empowering and building the capacity of local communities to look after their natural resources and this project is as much about achieving this as it is about saving an endangered species; they are intrinsically linked.
SCF has now deep connections with the villages around the ostrich site and visited schools to provide environmental education to the children with a focus on the North African Ostrich. It regularly facilitates workshop with officials and local stakeholders to build up the conservation strategy for the species.
LATEST NEWS ON THE PROJECT
To learn even more about the project, the following sources are available:
Help To Help
Desert species are going through a silent extinction that SCF wants to, if not reverse, at least halt. Please help us save the Sahelo-Saharan wildlife and participate in the biggest conservation efforts of all times! Spread the word on this tragedy and/or contribute to our initiatives by making a donation to SCF. Every act counts.
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North African Ostrich Recovery Project: Setting Up New Facilities
In partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN), Kellé, Niger, created by SCF a few years ago. SCF’s ambitious goal to reintroduce the species into the wild. The recent installation of a solar-powered hatchery and incubation unit is now allowing the organization to get closer to this goal. The containers have been successfully brought from […]
Many thanks to Yves Gauthier for sharing this news with us. A French Researcher and Rock art expert, he tells how he observed, together with his team and thanks to the guide Idris Barkai, unexpected ostrich tracks in Northern Chad. (A French version can be found at the end of this article with his email address in case you want to discuss […]