Site icon Conservation news

There are only three Saharan addax antelope left in the wild

  • The IUCN did not mince words in assigning culpability for the precipitous decline of the addax. Oil operations in Niger, chiefly those of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), have decimated the addax population, the IUCN said, mostly due to poaching by the military personnel hired to protect CNPC’s operations.
  • Addax numbers have declined sharply since 2010, when an initial round of surveys estimated the population at 200 animals.
  • After extensive aerial and ground-based surveys, the ground team sighted one small group: “three very nervous Addax individuals,” as the IUCN reported.

The collapse of Libya in 2011 might very well have been the beginning of the end for the iconic addax.

An extensive survey in March across key habitat for the addax (Addax nasomaculatus), a migratory species of desert-adapted antelope found in the Sahara, was able to identify just three animals, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported today.

Hunting or removal of live addax from West African country Niger, where addax are primarily found, is strictly forbidden. The antelope is also protected under the Convention on Migratory Species because its habitat has historically extended into Chad, the Central African country.

The IUCN did not mince words in assigning culpability for the precipitous decline of the addax. Oil operations in Niger, chiefly those of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), have decimated the addax population, the IUCN said, mostly due to poaching by the military personnel hired to protect CNPC’s operations. Even in the Termit & Tin-Toumma National Nature Reserve in eastern Niger, Africa’s largest protected area, poaching has increased drastically.

The IUCN added that the increase in poaching comes at a time when insecurity is escalating across the region. “The collapse of Libya in 2011 saw an exodus of militia with arms and 4×4 vehicles to neighbouring countries into areas harbouring important wildlife populations. This also fuelled subsequent insurgencies in Mali and northern Nigeria which have added to the instability, and the formerly remote habitats of the Addax have become major crossroads for the illicit trade of wildlife, arms, drugs and migrants,” the organization reported.

The Saharan addax faces imminent extinction. Photo by Thomas Rabeil/Sahara Conservation Fund.

Addax numbers have declined sharply since 2010, when an initial round of surveys estimated the population at 200 animals. In March of this year, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) performed extensive aerial and ground surveys funded in part by IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species initiative and the Saint Louis Zoo.

SCF used cutting-edge reconnaissance and surveillance technologies, including infrared capture and ultra-high resolution cameras, and covered more than 3,200 kilometers (about 2,000 miles) of transects across key addax habitat. After 18 hours of flight time, however, the SFC researchers had not found one single addax.

At the same time, the ground team searched over 700 km (about 435 miles) of addax habitat and other areas where addax tracks had been previously spotted over the past six months. The ground team sighted one small group: “three very nervous addax individuals,” as the IUCN reported.

“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,” Dr. Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCN’s Global Species Programme, said in a statement. “On behalf of all concerned parties we are recommending a set of emergency measures to help save the Addax from imminent extinction.”

IUCN’s experts are proposing measures to secure the remaining population of addax by stopping poaching by soldiers and engaging with CNPC to cooperate on preventing the extinction of the species. There is also a proposal to reinforce the existing addax population by introducing captive-bred stock into the wild.

According to Scientific American, “A few thousand of the animals live in captivity or semi-wild conditions in zoos, nature reserves, and breeding programs in Africa, Europe, Japan and Australia.” Ironically, there are also several hundred addax living on private ranches in Texas — where they are legally hunted for sport.

Dr. Thomas Rabeil of the Sahara Conservation Fund said in a statement that “Those with commercial interests in the desert could make important contributions to the protection of the addax by cooperating with the wildlife authorities and by adopting more sensitive practices, becoming stakeholders in the management of protected areas and by sharing sightings of these elusive animals with conservationists.”