Rare Dama Gazelles Rediscovered

SANDSCRIPT, No. 9. April 2011

Recent fieldwork carried out in Chad thanks to the Pan Sahara Wildlife Survey, generously funded by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has yet again turned up ground breaking data on endangered desert species. Accompanied by staff from Chad’s parks department and an experienced guide and ex-park ranger, the team surveyed part of the vast Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve. The reserve, approximately the size of Indi-ana, was until civil war broke out in the 1980s a haven for desert antelopes, including several thousand of the now extinct in the wild scimitar-horned oryx. The reserve’s dama gazelle population was also truly astounding and it was not uncommon to see upwards of a hundred of these magnificent gazelles in any one day. Following the war and the almost total disappearance of larger wildlife, it was assumed the dama gazelles, now a globally criti-cally endangered species, had gone the way of the oryx into oblivion. And although the odd rumor of gazelles did pop up from time to time no tangible evidence could be secured.

So with the somewhat daunting challenge of finding dama gazelles we set out. Our initial strategy was to talk to local nomadic herders and we were pleasantly surprised to hear news of recent sightings and some good indications of where the gazelles might be found. Once in the general area we then started a systematic search, combining long, vehicle-based transects with shorter excursions on foot to optimize chances of picking up tell tale tracks. It did not take long for our guide, Abdelaziz, to pick up the first spoor and soon enough we finally spotted our first dama gazelle. This was quickly followed by a small group of four, including a youngish animal. It is difficult to say exactly how many gazelles are left but first indications are very positive.

Apart from dama gazelles, the fieldwork also con-firmed the reserve as being almost certainly the best remaining reservoir in the whole of Africa for dorcas gazelles. In all we saw over fifteen hundred. And while camels in some areas out-numbered gazelles by 6 to 1, the prospects for their conservation are extremely positive. Significant efforts have been recently under-taken by the Chadian Government to curtail illegal hunting. On our return to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, we were able to present our findings to senior government officials and to discuss how best to conserve the precious gazelle populations of the reserve. Further work in the coming months will consolidate options, including the possibility of reintroducing scimitar-horned oryx.