The Termit and Tin Toumma regions of eastern Niger are the last remaining strongholds in the entire Sahara for a whole suite of threatened desert species, including the addax, dama gazelle, Barbary sheep and desert cheetah. The addax population found there is the largest remaining on earth and the survival of the species depends very much on efforts to protect and manage this area. With its partners, SCF has been working for nearly a decade to establish a vast new protected area whose management will benefit both wildlife and local pastoralists through improved habitat use, access to development aid, and the promotion of appropriate ecotourism. These efforts were crowned on March 6, 2012, when Niger formally gazetted the Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve. At 97,000 square kilometres (38,610 sq. miles) the reserve is the biggest of its type in Africa.
SCF implements this flagship project in partnership with the:
SCF is extremely grateful to its partners and donors for the generous financial support provided for this project since 2011:
The rarest antelope on earth
The addax antelope is one of the rarest and most endangered species on earth. With less than 300 left in the wild, the species’ survival depends on urgent and comprehensive action in its last remaining strongholds in the Sahelian nations of Niger and Chad.
In Niger, the addax’s last stronghold is in the desert country around the Termit Massif, a long, low-lying chain of rocky outcrops and plateaux situated in the east of the country. Straddling the interface between the Sahel and the Sahara, Termit and its environs comprise a wide variety of habitat types, ranging from open sandy ergs and eroded volcanic peaks to stony plateaux and mountain valleys. Annual rainfall is less than 100 mm (5 inches), although the mountainous relief allows for water to concentrate in the numerous drainage channels and alluvial pans, giving rise to a surprising variety of perennial plants, trees and shrubs.
The area’s small addax population is largely confined to a vast desert area known as Tin Toumma. It is certainly the largest remaining viable population in the wild today. SCF and its partners monitor this area regularly, counting addax, mapping their distribution and recording any information on their movements and feeding behaviour that will help in their conservation.
Over the past few years, however, threats to the addax have increased dramatically because of oil exploration and related military presence. Addax have been poached along with the area’s gazelles. Constant supervision and control are required to counter these threats, as well as dialogue with the military and local population to ensure better understanding of the reserve’s value.
Termit — a veritable Noah’s Ark
Although the Termit mountains appear to have been little documented in the past, the greater Termit area was crossed by the early Saharan explorers, such as Denham and Clapperton, Barth, Nachtigal, Vischer and Buchanan. All were astounded at the abundance of the region’s game. In more recent times, the late French photographer, Alain Dragesco-Joffé, documented Termit’s remarkable but already dwindling wildlife, lending support to the notion that Termit and its wildlife must be conserved as a wonderful and possibly unique example of the region’s fast disappearing fauna. From many perspectives, Termit is a veritable sanctuary, harbouring over 30 species of mammal, an as yet undetermined number of reptiles, and over 150 species of bird, including the threatened lappet-faced vulture, which breeds in several localities.
Since 2001, SCF has documented the area’s wildlife, raising awareness both locally and internationally of its exceptional richness but equally the high degree of endangerment faced by many species. Of particular concern is a whole suite of Red Data listed species, including the addax, the dama and dorcas gazelles, the cheetah, the Barbary sheep, and a number of less well known species, including the Arabian and Nubian bustards, vultures and small carnivores, like the fennec, pale fox, Rüppell’s fox and the sand cat. Termit also harbours what may be one of the last and most fascinating populations of the desert-adapted spurred tortoise.
Local nomads report little conflict with cheetah but recognize its numbers are falling. The jackal population is, however, thriving and livestock predation is a big concern for the nomads and one that SCF is working to resolve. Of particular concern is the impact of persecution and illegal poisoning on non-target species, like the fennec and other small carnivores. Also of concern is the future of the tiny, relict population of striped hyenas. The use of camera traps to record and survey nocturnal animals is also bringing to light rarely seen species, including porcupines, hedgehogs, honey badgers, genets, zorillas and the very rare African lynx or caracal.
Coming to grips with poaching is also a major part of the project, especially for the Barbary sheep and dama gazelles, which are being picked off one-by-one by local hunters. Like the now extinct scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), the dama gazelle is slipping inexorably towards extirpation in the wild. New threats, too, are also apparent as hunters, some from overseas, threaten dorcas gazelle and bustard populations.
Together with its partners, SCF is carrying out the groundwork to manage this vast, new, legally gazetted protected area. As well as the scientific and legal aspects, SCF is critically aware of the need to work closely with the people who live here and depend on the region’s natural resources for their livelihoods. To build cooperation, a network of community game guards has been established and excellent relations developed with local leaders. In the coming years, increased effort will be put into transferring the reserve’s management to the locally elected democratic structures that are increasingly replacing central government. Efforts will also continue to assist the local people address their concerns for health care, education and food and water security. The project does what it can to help, including acting as go between and ambassador with mainstream development and humanitarian agencies working in Niger.
Termit is an extraordinary place from all perspectives: ecological, cultural, geographic and archaeological. It is very much the keystone in national and international efforts to conserve Sahelo-Saharan wildlife. Success will have a major impact on turning the tide of extinction faced by many rare desert species. It will also secure part of Niger’s natural heritage for the benefit of all.