Once widespread in the Sahelo-Saharan region of Africa, the dama gazelle (Nanger dama) is now one of the continent’s most threatened antelope, classified as Critically Endangered by the UICN Red List, with less than 200 animals surviving in the wild. read more
In December 2020, members of the Oryx Project team spotted three wild dama gazelles – one of the world’s most endangered species – visiting the Oryx Base Camp, almost on a daily basis. Then, in January, two of these individuals began to approach the enclosures where the Project’s three captive dama gazelles – a male, a female and a young female born on August 24, 2020 – are located. The team determined via observations that the wild individuals were females but aimed to find out more by setting up a camera trap near the enclosure. The photos obtained were later shared with the rest of the project team for consultation and confirmation.
Throughout January and February, the southern transhumance of nomads through the Reserve intensified. Their passage near the Oryx Base Camp disrupted the activity of the wild dama gazelles around the project gazelle enclosure, so much so that they eventually left. Despite this, one individual quickly returned, presumably attracted by the presence of the male in the enclosure. Given its persistence, the team thought it would be a good idea to devise a system that would allow the gazelle to join the group of three. To do so, they constructed an access point in one part of the enclosure, removed an area of fence and placed hay on the ground to further encourage the gazelle.
After roaming around the enclosure for several more days, the wild dama gazelle eventually decided to enter. The team on lookout quickly closed off the access point, opened the inner door the day after so that the group of four could interact, and moved away, aiming to limit the stress of the animals as they mixed.
After overcoming a brief period of nervousness, the new gazelle quickly integrated into the group.
SCF, the field team and the project partners are delighted with this success. But as the coming months are the driest and hottest of the year, maintaining these wild-born dama gazelles in captivity remains a delicate exercise. Everyone involved will therefore pay particular attention to the health of the group. Going forward, the field staff will rely on the experience they have already developed with the group of captive dama to ensure that the individuals are well looked after and are eventually in a position to strengthen the Reserve’s wild population of dama gazelles by successfully reproducing.
Photos © Marc Dethier
The Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme in Chad is a joint initiative of the Government of Chad and the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi. Under the overall leadership and management of the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi, on-the-ground implementation of the project is carried out by the Sahara Conservation Fund. In 2019, following a highly successful first phase of activities, EAD generously agreed to develop and fund a second five-year phase of operations. Phase II of the project maintains focus on building the oryx population but also adds new Sahelo-Saharan species to the mix, including the Critically Endangered addax antelope (Addax nasomaculatus), dama gazelle (Nanger dama), and North African ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus).
In one of the most ambitious and challenging missions it has ever undertaken, the Sahara Conservation Fund led an international team in the safe and successful capture and translocation of three Critically Endangered dama gazelles from western Chad to holding facilities in the centre of the country.
The operation, which took place in January with strong support from the Chadian authorities, was carried out using ground, light aircraft and helicopter support. The team carrying out this vitally important initiative was made up from staff of Chad’s Wildlife Service, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the Zoological Society of London, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Gulf Breeze Zoo, and Noé Conservation. Capturing individuals from the Manga population was also the highest priority under the Dama Gazelle Conservation Strategy 2019-2028 (Al Ain Zoo, IUCN/SSC ASG & RZSS, 2019). SCF is extremely grateful also to the Fondation Segré, Rewild, and the Zoological Society of London for their support.
Veterinarians, Charlotte Moueix (DVM, MSc.) and Julie Swenson (DVM, Dipl. ACZM), and handling team Adam Eyres (Fossil Rim Wildlife Center), Justin Chuven and Ricardo Pusey (Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi), played a determining role in capturing the gazelles by darting them from the helicopter and then assuring their safety during transport by plane, helicopter, and finally moving them to their new home’s fence in the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve.
The tiny western Chad population of dama gazelles, thought to number less than twenty, is undoubtedly the most at risk of extinction from poaching and habitat loss. Saving animals from this genetically rich group is seen as a major priority in strategies to improve the species’ status. Since all the gazelles initially captured were females, a fine male from the central Chad population was also darted and brought into captivity to form a small breeding group.
In thanking all its partners, SCF also extends its gratitude to SVS-Tchad, Mission Aviation Fellowship and Tropic Air Kenya for the pilots and logistical support without which this mission would not have been possible.
The National Nature Reserve of Aïr and Ténéré in Niger is home to some iconic animal species – among which the dama gazelle (Nanger dama), one of the most endangered antelopes on the planet.
Due to human activity in the valleys – the dama gazelle has found refuge on the mountain Takoloukouzet, which is located in the reserve. The species is still listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN list with only a few hundred individuals still living in the wild.
Following a period of political instability in Northern Niger, the species was considered possibly extinct in the reserve. However, local populations mentioned the presence of some people in the near future. A joint mission of SCF and the Directorate of Wildlife Hunting and Parks and Reserves (DFC / PR) funded by the World Heritage Fund, finally confirmed this information.
In January 2017, SCF put thirteen camera traps in this area to learn more about the distribution of animals living there. The responsible is responsible for the reserve management. This would help determine what specific activities are needed for the conservation of the species in the area.
Every six months, members of SCF Niger ‘staff go on a mission on the Takolokouzet to collect data from the camera traps, check and move them, which allows to cover most of the area. In February, 4 Dama gazelles were observed and several indirect observations were made. A drone has also been given this time by both monitoring and mapping activities. This new tool will definitely make things easier on this difficult-to-access rough terrain.
December 13, 2018. After five years of analysis and research, Al Ain Zoo yesterday concluded its second roundtable workshop dedicated to conserving the critically endangered Dama Gazelle, in collaboration with the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, with the support of the Sahara Conservation Fund in Chad and the Al Bustan Zoological Centre.
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
The Takolokouzet Massif is located in the Aïr & Ténéré National Nature Reserve in Niger. It is home to some iconic species, including the Barbary sheep and the dama gazelle, one of the most endangered antelopes on the planet. It is on Takolokouzet’s plateaus that the reserve’s last dama gazelles find refuge from disturbance and growing human presence.
As part of its work to preserve the gazelle dama, SCF is using camera-traps to gather information on its distribution and seasonal movements.
In October this year, an SCF Niger team undertook a mission to Takolokouzet with two wildlife rangers and a community game guard recruited to monitor the camera-traps [RB1] set up in the field and to sensitize the people living in the area. One hundred and fifty kilometres were travelled on foot over rough terrain to retrieve data from the cameras and to move the grid to new areas tio complete the survey. The twelve cameras yielded several thousand photos.
During this mission, the team observed seven dama gazelles and made several other indirect observations of tracks and dung piles. Several herds of dorcas gazelle, with many calves, were also observed.
Although evidence of disturbance caused by gold panning was recorded there was luckily no sign of poaching. Although the number of remaining dama gazelles is very small, we are optimistic for their future thanks to good cooperation with the local people. We hope they will help protect the dama gazelles, one of the last three tiny remaining metapopulations of the species in the wild.