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Hope for Tunisia's oryx and addax

16/11/2012 14:42:52

Scimitar-horned oryx in Tunisia’s Dghoumes National Park (Photo: Marie Petretto/Marwell Wildlife

Courtesy of the Sahara Conservation Fund
November 2012. With the aftermath of the Arab Spring still being played out in front of the world's media, conservation work away from the spotlights is helping Tunisia restore its once vibrant large mammal fauna. Almost 50 years since Tunisia's Forest Law laid down the basis for wildlife conservation in the country, the results are on the whole positive.

Many desert species, like the Dorcas gazelle and the North African ostrich, enjoy the relative safety of the semi-wild in restored habitats inside a significant network of protected areas. However, the most striking success is probably the return of the large antelopes, the scimitar-horned oryx and addax, which existed in large herds but are now considered extinct in the Wild and Critically Endangered by IUCN respectively.
The reintroduction of antelopes into a network of relatively small, fenced protected areas poses particular challenges because of inherent risks to small isolated populations.

Hence, in collaboration with Sahara Conservation Fund, Marwell Wildlife is starting a 2-year project to assess the impact of increasing numbers of oryx on their habitat and the effects of limited space on the performance of the population in Dghoumes National Park. The results will help inform management of the species, and create a practicable monitoring system that could be applied more widely.

180 oryx now in Tunisia
It is now 27 years since the first group of scimitar-horned oryx was brought back to Tunisia from UK zoos. Several other imports have occurred since then and there are now about 180 individuals in four protected areas (Bou Hedma, Sidi Toui, Oued Dekouk and Dghoumes).

Forthcoming fieldwork will include DNA analyses to evaluate the impact of current management on genetic diversity, and help design a national meta-population plan, including translocations of animals between protected areas and augmentation with new animals from breeding programs in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Wild herd
Meanwhile, the herd of addax that was reintroduced to Djebil National Park in 2007with support from SCF is doing well. During the coming months, births will be monitored so that calves can be identified and selected for future translocation to Senghar National Park to help achieve long term goals for the restoration of this species in the Grand Erg Oriental.

While there is hope for the reintroduction of the oryx and the conservation of remaining addax populations elsewhere in North Africa, Tunisia must take great credit for over a quarter of a century of efforts to re-establish these species within their network of protected areas. This meta-population model needs refinement but may be the only option for many former range states if they want to see the return of these magnificent antelope. SCF and its partners, including Marwell, will continue to play a central role in these endeavours at all scales.

This article was kindly contributed by Marie Petretto (right), Tunisia-based Conservation Officer with Marwell Wildlife via The Sahara Conservation Fund

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