These animals had been selected, prepared and transported to Chad by the UAE Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) on November 13, 2019. Upon arrival, they spent two months in a large acclimation pen built for them in the reserve to allow the addax to adjust to local forage and climate conditions as well as for observation purposes. When the project team caring for the animals determined that conditions were suitable, the addax were transported to a new temporary release pen located in an appropriate habitat 30 kilometers from the acclimation pens and then released to the wild.
"We are so excited to see this coming to fruition after years of planning," said Bill Houston, Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center. "To connect the Saint Louis Zoo's conservation work with addax in such a meaningful way to help conserve this species in the wild is a dream come true for all of us."
The addax, the most desert-adapted antelope in the world, may also be the rarest. Critically endangered, this iconic Saharan species numbers less than 100 in the wild by most estimates, scattered in small, isolated populations, primarily in Niger and Chad. The Saint Louis Zoo, through its WildCare Institute Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center, has joined others within the international conservation community to answer an urgent call to action to address the extinction underway for addax and other Saharan species.
Saint Louis Zoo Support
The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center is helping to underwrite the cost of the post-release monitoring of these animals through the generosity of an anonymous donor. All 15 addax were fitted with satellite tracking collars prior to their release. These collars take a position fix every two hours then relay these recent locations via satellite to the reintroduction team every 12 hours. The collars also broadcast a very high frequency (VHF) signal for 12 hours each day. A Chadian tracking team on the ground in the reserve, led by Krazidi Abeye, Ecological Monitoring Manager, Sahara Conservation Fund. They use the satellite-relayed position data from the previous 12 hours each morning to direct themselves to the general area where they will search for the VHF signal from the collars. The tracking team then uses the VHF signal to home in on the animals' exact locations so they can observe how each addax is faring as the animals adapt to living in the wild. The satellite collar data also is relayed to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, whose research scientists developed the monitoring protocols and now direct the data analysis and interpretation.
"The collar data provides insights into such behaviors as movement patterns, seasonal preference for certain types of habitat, seasonal activity in response to temperature and weather patterns, social affiliations between individuals, and movement patterns that might signal a female is preparing to calve," said Houston. "Knowing how they are moving, utilizing habitat and adapting to the wild informs how subsequent releases can be fine-tuned to support the rewilding of addax."
This pilot release of addax is part of a larger initiative launched in 2014: The Chad Oryx Reintroduction Project, a unique collaboration between UAE Environment Agency – EAD, the Republic of Chad, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF), Chad's Ministry for the Environment, Water and Fisheries and other partners. Since 2016, the project has been releasing a related antelope species, the scimitar-horned oryx, which vanished from the wild in the late 1980s to early 1990s due to unsustainable hunting pressure, habitat degradation and other issues. Fortunately, there are still large numbers of this oryx under human care in zoos and private collections around the world, animals that can be used to restore this species to the wild. By the end of 2019, nearly 200 oryx have been released in Chad's Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Wildlife Reserve. Scimitar-horned oryx, officially listed as extinct in the wild in 2000, now are thriving and reproducing, increasing the population to nearly 250 individuals. More wild births are anticipated over the next few months.
Encouraged by the success of the scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction to date, the Chad Oryx Reintroduction Project team has set its sights on applying the lessons learned from the oryx restoration to aid the recovery of other critically endangered Saharan species such as the addax. If all goes well, additional addax releases are planned for February and November 2020. SCF, in association with the Chadian Ministry of the Environment, has been tasked by EAD and the Republic of Chad to implement this project in the field.
John Newby, former CEO of SCF and now its Senior Advisor, began advocating 20 years ago for the restoration of Saharan wildlife like the addax and oryx through partnerships with zoos, conservation biologists, government agencies and other stakeholders.
"No single organization could achieve this milestone on their own. Only by working in partnership with the Government of Chad, EAD, the zoo and captive breeding community and others could these addax be returned to their native habitat," said Newby.
Technical assistance and support to this ambitious program is provided by the following agencies: Zoological Society of London, Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Marwell Wildlife, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, European Union and Saint Louis Zoo.
About Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center
The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Saharan Wildlife Recovery Center was created to address the silent crisis of extinction underway in the Sahara and its border with the short dry grasslands of the Sahel in North and West Africa. The Center looks for opportunities to connect care for zoo and privately held populations of Sahelo-Saharan species to the restoration and protection of their wild counterparts. Its portfolio of target species has included North African red-necked ostrich, addax, scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, vultures (Rüppell's, lappet-faced, hooded and Egyptian), fox (fennec and Rüppell's) as well as Saharan cheetah.