The Sahelo-Saharan region extends over much of Northern part of the continent of Africa and includes at least some part of 14 range states.
It is a highly varied region and its vast area encompasses features such as the huge sand dune complexes or ergs of the Issaoune Erg of Algeria, mountains like that of the Tibesti in Chad, wadis or dry river beds and the oases more commonly associated with ‘deserts’ but also includes the dry forests and seasonal grasslands of the Sahel in the south and Mediterranean coastal region in the north. These areas are highly sensitive to environmental change and the desert boundary can vary with the season and from year to year meaning that both humans and wildlife traditionally move with it to find the resources needed to survive. This adds to competition between people and wildlife and greatly complicates land management.
A healthy ecosystem needs to maintain its biodiversity and Saharan Africa has lost more of its large mammals than any other region of the Palaearctic (Europe, Africa and Asia). Over-hunting and degradation of habitat have led to a rapid decline in Sahelo-Saharan antelopes over the last hundred years. They played a crucial role in the maintenance of biodiversity, particularly with regards to healthy plant and predator communities and historically have had a major role in the culture and livelihoods of indigenous peoples of the region.
Today, antelopes remain one of the few natural resources of arid lands that might have good potential for sustainable economic development. The importance of these desert antelope for the region has been recognised in international conventions such the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) , the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) .
Due to the pressure of severe drought, civil war and modern hunting techniques, wild antelope populations are under severe threat, with some species extinct in the wild such as the scimitar-horned oryx and many close to the brink.
The conservation and restoration of the desert antelope is vital for maintaining the healthy function of the delicate ecosystems of the sahelo-saharan region. ZSL work closely with our local and international partners to carry out essential work to conserve and restore these magnificent animals and allow them to take a functioning place within the desert ecosystem.
Our work takes a number of different approaches to conservation:
- Essential surveys of biodiversity status and threats in often remote locations across the massive Saharan region allow us to better understand the current situation and how best to focus our efforts. Over the last 20 years ZSL and partners have carried out surveys in Chad, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia. Today, as an active founder member of the Saharan Conservation Fund (SCF), ZSL is part of a Pan Saharan Wildlife Survey to bring together up to date information on densities of species like the addax , dorcas gazelle , dama gazelle and Namibian bustard, and identify populations of species like saharan cheetahs.
- As part of overall ecosystem restoration ZSL is involved in carefully managed reintroductions of antelope to their former range. Working with partners such as the CMS / FFEM and the Tunisian Direction Générale des Forêts (DGF), ZSL advises on monitoring and management of semi captive reintroduced populations of addax and scimitar-horned oryx in Tunisia as well as wild populations of slender-horned gazelle . This is a crucial step towards meeting our aim of free ranging wild populations within their former range.
- Working with local communities and range states to build support and understanding of the importance of biodiversity for a healthy ecosystem and the role that conservation can play in this.
- Building capacity locally to carry out this work, we at ZSL see our role as providing technical expertise to facilitate the sustainable management of resources by local communities and states, without which conservation may not succeed in the long term. This can take the form of the ranger training in Tunisia or more broadly being involved in the restoration of St Katherines monastery and its surrounds in Sinai.
- Using cutting edge techniques in bio-monitoring to survey the last wild pockets of biodiversity, for example in Termit in Niger.