Genetic research boosts conservation efforts for critically endangered antelope

Posted 13 Apr 2023

Addax in the desert IMAGE: Marie Petretto 2023

Scientists at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) have undertaken the first global assessment of genetic diversity for a critically endangered antelope, the addax, to inform conservation efforts.

Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the wildlife conservation charity’s WildGenes team are working with partners to help to secure a future for addax, an extremely threatened antelope that once roamed across Africa’s Sahara Desert.

Findings from the study will support a global management plan for the species which has fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild due to threats including climate change, hunting and habitat loss.

Dr Kara Dicks, RZSS WildGenes research scientist and lead author, said “Our findings provide unique insight into the last remaining wild population, as well as captive populations and those already reintroduced to Tunisia. We found that the genetic diversity in the last wild population was greater and different to that in captivity, highlighting the importance of both these populations for conserving addax. This will inform critical decision-making in addax conservation and reintroduction programmes, ensuring this rare species is given the best chance of long-term success.”

Genetic Diversity has been recognised as one of the three fundamental components in the United Nation’s Global Biodiversity framework, which guides action to protect nature across the world.

Dr Dicks continued, “Our planet is facing a biodiversity crisis and understanding genetic diversity is a crucial tool for saving wildlife, alongside restoring the diversity of species and ecosystems.  

“Greater genetic diversity strengthens the capacity for populations to adapt to changing environmental pressures such as climate change and disease, and we are thrilled to use our expertise to inform conservation action for species like the addax.”

Dr Tania Gilbert, Head of Conservation Science at Marwell Wildlife and senior author said “The Addax is teetering on the brink of extinction in the wild and in urgent need of concerted conservation action. This collaborative project provides critical information to guide effective conservation initiatives that can make a real difference to the species, in particular to addax conservation projects in Tunisia.”.

This study has been made possible thanks to partners at Marwell Wildlife, Al Ain Zoo, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and Direction Générale des Forêts Tunisie, and the many sample contributors, particularly Sahara Conservation, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Alongside players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the work of RZSS WildGenes is supported by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland visitors, members, patrons and donors.