GLAND, Switzerland, March 6, 2009 (ENS) – A quarter of all antelope species are threatened with extinction, according to a newly published report by antelope experts who work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and its authoritative IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The results, compiled by the Antelope Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, show that out of 91 species of antelope, 25 are threatened with extinction. The status of several species has become worse since the last complete assessment of all antelopes in 1996.
“Unsustainable harvesting, whether for food or traditional medicine, and human encroachment on their habitat are the main threats facing antelopes,” says Dr. Philippe Chardonnet, co-chair of the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group.
“Most antelopes are found in developing countries which is why it’s critically important that we collaborate with local communities there since it is in their own interest to help preserve these animals.”
Five species of antelope that still exist in the wild are listed as Critically Endangered, the highest category of threat. They are the Dama gazelle, Nanger dama, Aders’ duiker, Cephalophus adersi, the Saiga antelope, Saiga tatarica, the Hirola, Beatragus hunteri, and the Addax, Addax nasomaculatus.
The Dama gazelle and Addax are both reduced to tiny remnant populations and highlight the dire situation for wildlife in the Sahelo-Saharan region, the report warns.
Although massive reserves, such as the Ahaggar and Tasilli in Algeria, the Aïr/Tenere in Niger, the Ouadi Rime-Ouadi Achim in Chad, and the newly established Wadi Howar National Park in Sudan cover areas where the Addax previously occurred, some are under-resourced and all no longer harbor Addax, according to the new report.
Continued support for gazetted reserves in Chad and Niger, together with the establishment of new protected areas, especially along the Mali/Mauritania frontier, in Niger, and in Chad, is essential, but must be supported and combined with programs to create incentives for the local people to protect the antelopes, advises the Antelope Specialist Group.
Addax have been reintroduced to fenced sectors of protected areas in Tunisia, and the first reintroduction of addax to the wild is underway in Jebil National Park, Tunisia, and another is planned in southern Morocco.
There are over 600 Addax in Europe, Libya, Egypt, North America, Japan and Australia in managed breeding programs, and at least 1,000 more individuals are held in private collections and ranches in the United States and the Middle East.
The Dama gazelle numbers fewer than 500 animals, according to the new report, which states, “The sustained decline due to uncontrolled hunting and habitat loss has continued and is now estimated to have exceeded 80% over 10 years.”
The Reserve partielle de faune du Bahr-el-Ghazal in Chad, and the Aïr-Ténéré National Nature Reserve in Niger, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, harbor the remaining viable Dama gazelle populations. “Both reserves have suffered from military unrest resulting in the collapse of conservation infrastructure,” the report warns.
The scimitar horned oryx, Oryx dammah, is already classified as Extinct in the Wild, but there are ongoing efforts to reintroduce it from captive populations.
Only the Tibetan antelope, Pantholops hodgsonii, is threatened with extinction out the six non-antelope species monitored by the Antelope Specialist Group. This species, hunted for its soft fur used in fashionable shawls, is listed as Endangered.
A further nine antelope species are classed as Endangered, and another nine are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Nearly 70 percent of antelope species are not threatened with extinction and some areas of the world are doing better than others in terms of antelope populations. India, for example, is inhabited by four species of antelope and only one of them is currently regarded as threatened.
“Despite the pressure of living alongside 1.2 billion people, antelopes are doing well in India,” says Dr. David Mallon, co-chair of the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group. “It is no coincidence that there is very little tradition of hunting in India and gun ownership is rare.”
Overall, populations are stable in 31 percent of antelope species and decreasing in 62 percent of antelope species. The springbok, Antidorcas marsupialis, a native of southern Africa is the only antelope species with a long-term increasing trend, mainly as a result of the game ranching industry.