It may be every wildlife conservationist’s worst fear – the apparent absence of a species in its key habitat. But it is always worth double-checking to confirm if that fear was well-founded or not.
In the case of the Critically Endangered Addax antelope (Addax nasomaculatus), an extensive aerial and ground survey in March 2016 had found just three individuals in the vast Termit & Tin Toumma Reserve of Niger. The photograph accompanying the report was evocative. It seemed a large African mammal species was being driven toward extinction among the sands of the Sahara by poachers and disturbance caused by oil exploration in the region.
Working with the IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group and IUCN’s SOS initiative, grantee Thomas Rabeil of the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and Sébastien Pinchon of Noé Conservation (another grantee protecting Addax) drafted the necessary Press Release to share the bleak news. Since then efforts in Niger and Chad have focused on two core activities Thomas explains.
First, the SCF conservation team and local partners continue collecting data in the field to update the situation regarding Addax distribution, habitat conditions and threats. Secondly, the team works to strengthen the legal framework and the engagement of the range states to protect the wild Addax population by working to establish an action plan for its conservation in Niger and Chad.
Recent survey results give pause for hope. Ground surveys performed in Chad in December 2016, and Niger in February and April 2017 revealed pockets of Addax holding on in Western Chad and in the Termit & Tin Toumma Reserve in Niger.
It was the first mission to Chad’s Eguey region since 2010 and strong winds made finding wildlife tracks almost impossible, recalls Thomas. Despite this, by tapping into the knowledge of local herders the team learned about the presence of a small population of 15-30 Addax. They are distributed across a patchwork of habitats composed of barkhans (crescent-shaped dunes), sand sheet and oases, offering good grazing opportunities. Such conditions attract camels, too, however, and consequently herders looking for their camels. Those same herders hinted at an even bigger population – perhaps several groups each counting dozens of individuals - living in the wider vicinity.
The good news kept coming. A hot season survey in April in Termit & Tin Toumma, covering 350 km² of good grazing, found fresh tracks of six Addax early in the morning on the fourth day. This group included three female and two male adults as well as a juvenile. The proof of successful breeding is a sign of hope elaborates Thomas especially given the absence of recent vehicle tracks or human activities in this key habitat. Following these surveys, the team now thinks there are probably more Addax in this area though perhaps not enough to form a viable population.
The longer-term efforts to help strengthen legal protection for the Addax in Niger and Chad have borne fruit also with the holding of a multi-stakeholder workshop in N’Djaména in late March 2017 to discuss and establish action plans for the Addax as well as the Critically Endangered Dama Gazelle (Nanger dama).
Soon to be published by the IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group and endorsed by the governments of Chad and Niger, the strategies will provide a roadmap for effective conservation of these two desert-adapted species. That these action plans were drafted with the involvement of the wildlife services of both Chad and Niger testifies to the level of engagement in saving these iconic species.
While the surveys revealed the immediate future of the Addax was not as bleak as it had appeared in March 2016, it will be the successful implementation of the Action Plan that guarantees future survival prospects.
This story is about just one of more than 250 threatened species supported by more than 100 projects in the SOS portfolio. Each one offers a wealth of practical lessons and insights into conservation action concerning specific taxonomic groups and challenges. Explore the SOS interactive map and sign up for the SOS newsletter to keep up to date on further news from our grantees.