Formerly found in great numbers over immense arid areas, addax populations have crashed to less than one hundred individuals in isolated pockets since the advent of modern weapons and transport, and more recently oil exploration and civil unrest. Today, the addax is the most threatened ungulate in the Sahara and quite possibly the world and is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Over the past decade, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and its partners have been monitoring this tiny meta-population and helping Chad and Niger’s wildlife services ensure its protection.
The relatively recent decline in addax sightings can clearly be attributed to disturbance from oil exploration and increased levels of poaching mainly by the armed forces and to a lesser extent by traffickers from the local community circulating across the borders of Niger, Chad and Libya.
Wide-ranging ground and aerial surveys must be carried out in close collaboration with the Nigerien and Chadian wildlife authorities in the last strongholds of the addax. This is a huge area to cover, twice the size of Indiana, to locate any remaining addax. The information collected in the field contributes to the formulation of emergency and longer-term conservation measures. These surveys are very challenging to organize in terms of logistics but also because of security issues in this part of the world. Monitoring programmes for the meta-population of addax should be continued and expanded where feasible, using standardised protocols.
The first priority is to prevent the loss of more animals from the wild by ensuring effective protection from poaching at key sites and also extending protection to habitat, notably by identifying areas of habitat known to be important to the addax and establishing disturbance-free zones there that limit or exclude human activities.
Another critical component that is essential to long-term success is working with local communities which share the habitat and use the same pastures, given the now perilously small number of addax left in the wild. It is also time to seriously explore of the enhancement of gene flow between the wild and captive populations through reintroduction using addax raised in human care where the species has been extirpated, and reinforcement where sub-populations of wild addax are too small and isolated to maintain genetic diversity naturally.
The situation is precarious for this species and recovery and recolonization of former range from such a small and fragmented wild population is unrealistic at present. SCF and its partners, including the AZA Addax SSP, Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2) and the Source Population Alliance (SPA) (which brings together the zoo community and owners of the much larger numbers of animals in private hands in the USA), are working towards the reintroduction of addax to former range sites (such as the Ouadi Rimé – Ouadi Achim Game Reserve, by using the scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction facilities) and releases to reinforce small, isolated sub-populations before they collapse and disappear.
These actions are detailed in an action plan for the remaining wild populations of addax in Niger and Chad, drafted by SCF, ZSL, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group, CMS, Noé, Niger and Chadian national agencies.