Abu Dhabi races to save wild antelope in Chad

The EAD will release 15 addax antelope bred in captivity to Chad later this year

More than a dozen Addax are released into the wild in Chad. Courtesy Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
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The wild addax antelope is perhaps the loneliest mammal on the planet.

These majestic, snow-white antelope once roamed across North Africa but poaching and industrialisation pushed the wild population to extinction.

By 2016, there were just three left in the wild and these were only discovered after a 700km ground search and an 3,200km aerial survey led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature - an international conservation organisation based in Switzerland.

But the species is about to get a second chance.

The Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi plans to bring back the antelope from the knife-edge of extinction with the re-introduction of addaxes bred in captivity.

The agency flew 15 addax by cargo plane from the UAE to Chad, where they will be acclimatised before their release to the wild later this year.

In 2016, there were only three Addax lft in the world. Courtesy Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
In 2016, there were only three Addax lft in the world. Courtesy Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

The addax is perfectly adapted to surviving in one of the most extreme climates in the world with long, flat hoofs act that like snowshoes so it can run across fine desert sand and a white coat that reflects the sun. Males can grow up to 135 kilograms but the species is so spectacularly adapted to dry environments, it can get most of the water it needs from a diet of grass, tubers and desert scrub.

But the wild population plummeted from 200 in 2010 to just three in six years when its habitat became a region of drug and weapon smuggling and illegal wildlife trade after the 2011 political collapse in Libya.

Oil installations by China National Petroleum Corporation wrecked havoc on its habitat, and soldiers protecting the oil sites significantly increased poaching in one of the species’ last safe havens in Niger, according to the IUCN.

The EAD hopes the reintroduction of the addax will emulate the success of the scimitar-horned oryx, which was reintroduced by the EAD in partnership with Chad and the Sahara Conservation Fund.

Today, 202 scimitar-horned oryx roam the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve Protected Area, following the birth of more than 40 calves this summer.

“We take great pride in the efforts being made to bring the scimitar horned oryx back from the brink of extinction and to see our 'World Herd' of this species thriving once again in the desert regions of Chad,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, the EAD Secretary General.

Hundreds of oryx will be reintroduced over the course of a five year programme. The programme's success has affected the scale and ambition of future species projects, said Dr Al Dhaheri.

“Many lessons have been learnt since the inception of the programme and we hope that the valuable knowledge and technical expertise we gained will pave the way for the reintroduction of these other highly endangered antelope species into the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve.”

The agency is also increasing conservation of the wild population of Dama gazelles, an agile creature that can shrink its heart and liver to survive in the hot savannahs of Africa and Asia. It, too, has approached extinction due to poaching and habitat loss.