Saharan Carnivores

Sand cat. Copyright Thomas Rabeil.

The desert regions of the world are often viewed as wasteland – however, on closer inspection, they often prove to be suprisingly diverse and fragile ecosystems that support a wide range of wildlife.   And if you think of deserts, perhaps the first that jumps  mind is the Sahara.  The Sahara, spreading across much of North Africa, is the world second largest desert – the largest, susprisingly, is Antarctica. 

The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) has identified the Termit/Tin Toumma region of Niger as one of the last refuges for an entire group of threatened Sahelo-Saharan wildlife , including: addax antelope Dama gazelles; Nubian and Sudan bustards; fennec, pale, and Rüppell’s foxes; golden jackal; striped hyena and desert cheetah. SCF’s field work over the past several years has led to a better understanding of the population dynamics and ecology of the antelope in the region.  However, very little is known about Saharan carnivores. 

Fennec fox in the Sahara. Copyright Bill Houston.

A viable reserve needs a full complement of native carnivores, but their impact on traditional human activities must be mitigated by balancing the needs of both. Thanks in part to a generous grant from AZA’s Conservation Endowment Fund (CEF),  SCF, Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Saint Louis Zoo launched a survey of carnivore distribution and abundance, as well as programs with local people to investigate and mitigate livestock predation to achieve carnivore conservation.   This two year pilot project in Niger is contributing to a better understanding of the distribution, abundance and ecology of several species.  Since the project began in July 2009 13 fennec, 11 Rüppell’s and nine pale fox have been radio-collared, with nearly 600 locations of collared individuals recorded via radio telemetry to date.  Camera trapping has provided abundant data for a number of species, including the first nocturnal photo of a Saharan cheetah in Niger.  To date over 150 people living in Termit/Tin Toumma have been surveyed regarding attitude towards carnivores, losses to carnivores, livestock protection measures used and veterinary care available.  Survey data will help the development of strategies to mitigate human-carnivore conflict where and when it occurs.

The elusive desert cheetah. Copyright SCF.

Additional support for these critical efforts has been provided by AAZK-Saint Louis, Abilene Zoo, Adam Eyres, Bronx Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Exotic Endeavors, Erie Zoo, Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo,  Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Gilman International Conservation, John Ball Zoo, Living Desert, Lynn Hall, Marwell Wildlife, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Nashville Zoo, Oregon Metro Zoo, Phyllis Frazier, Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium, Zoo New England, Zoo d’Amneville, Zoo de la Palmyre, and Zoo Osnabrück.

Tim Lewthwaite

This entry was posted in cheetah, Conservation, Research, Zoo. Bookmark the permalink.

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