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Using genetics to inform antelope conservation

Arid land antelopes

Protecting endangered antelopes

Arid environments are home to some of the world’s most threatened antelope species, including addax, scimitar horned oryx and dama gazelle.

Herds in the wild have suffered catastrophic declines due to hunting, drought and habitat loss so global captive breeding programmes in zoos, private collections and semi-wild reintroduced populations are vital to secure the future of these species. RZSS WildGenes is working with partners to assess levels of genetic diversity within these herds, inform captive management and reintroduction efforts, and monitor genetic diversity within reintroduced populations.


Scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah)

Once widespread across the Sahel and Sahara Desert of north Africa in herds of over a million individuals, scimitar-horned oryx vanished from the wild in the 20th Century. Yet, the species persisted in its thousands in captivity and the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) have created a “World Herd” consisting of animals from zoos and other institutions across the globe. Bringing together animals from different captive populations has increased genetic diversity within the population, and, since 2016, a partnership between the EAD, the government of Chad and Sahara Conservation has re-introduced scimitar-horned oryx from the World Herd to the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Reserve, Chad.

WildGenes have been working with the EAD for several years to understand and monitor the genetic diversity present within the World Herd and other captive populations, as well as within the re-introduced population in Chad. Combining these genetic data with the practical know-how on the ground, we can integrate these genetic data into conservation management of both the captive and reintroduced populations to maximise genetic diversity and give them the best chances of persisting into the future.

Dama gazelle (Nanger dama)

Dama gazelle are Critically Endangered, with fewer than 250 individuals, and probably fewer than 100, remaining in the wild. There is some debate over whether there really are three subspecies of dama gazelle (mhorr, ruficollis and dama), which has important implications for management of the captive populations and conservation activities in the wild. Do we conserve and manage each subspecies separately (as has been done for zoo populations) or do we pool conservation efforts for the species as a whole?

Work by the WildGenes team and our partners suggests that there is little genetic support for these subspecies and that small, isolated populations have lost genetic diversity and may be suffering from inbreeding. Using state-of-the art genomic techniques to analyse faecal samples from wild dama gazelles, we are working to understand genetic diversity in wild and captive populations, helping to integrate management for both wild and captive dama gazelles under the Dama Gazelle Conservation Strategy 2019-2028.

Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)

With fewer than 100 remaining in the wild, addax are critically endangered, and captive populations are vital in preventing addax from becoming extinct.  Working with partners around the world, we are investigating genetic diversity within wild and captive populations, as well as within the reintroduced herds in Tunisia and Chad. These data show how genetic diversity is distributed, which helps conservation managers to determine optimal strategies for managing the Tunisian herds and deciding which individuals should be reintroduced to Chad.


See our WildGenes team in action in this episode of RZSS Goes WildGenes all about addax!

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