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article imageDocumenting the loss of the Sahara's 'mega-fauna'

By Karen Graham     Dec 5, 2013 in Environment
Covering most of North Africa, the Sahara Desert is the world's largest tropical desert, covering 3.6 million sq. miles, about the size of Brazil. Largely undeveloped, the Sahara has one of the harshest ecosystems to survive in, for humans and wildlife.
A paper published online in [i]Diversity and Distributions[/i], outlined a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London into the catastrophic collapse of the wildlife of the Sahara Desert. The research team conducting the study consisted of more than 40 authors, representing 28 scientific organizations.
The researchers found that the Sahara's mega-fauna (larger animals) are suffering a "catastrophic decline" in numbers, based on a study of 14 large-bodied animals. Surprisingly, ten of the 14, or 86 percent were extinct or endangered.
Photographers comment:  I was standing on a viewing platform about 25m away. He wasn t doing much at...
Photographers comment: "I was standing on a viewing platform about 25m away. He wasn't doing much at all other than looking regal. The Okinjima AfriCat foundation in Namibia looks after sick or injured big cats until they can be returned to the wild.
Kevin Pluck
The four animals found to be extinct in the Sahara Desert region included the Bubal hartebeest, now gone forever. Also now considered extinct are the African wild dog, and the African lion, two of the Sahara's top predators.
The fourth animal, the scimitar-horned oryx, is now extinct in the wild, but efforts are being made by Niger to reintroduce it. Niger has established the Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve. An area larger than Portugal, the reserve will be home to the scimitar-horned oryx, addax, Doma gazelle and Saharan cheetah. Chad also has plans to reintroduce the scimitar-horned oryx into its reserve.
A herd of Scimitar horned oryx grazing at Marwell Wildlife  Hampshire  England.
A herd of Scimitar horned oryx grazing at Marwell Wildlife, Hampshire, England.
Charles Miller from Basingstoke, United Kingdom
The study also found that three other large animals were not doing so well, either. The Doma gazelle, numbering 500 in the wild, and the addax, with only 300 left, and the Saharan cheetah, with 250 remaining, are all on the edge of extinction. All three are listed as being "critically endangered" by the IUCN Red List.
What is also very telling in the study is the loss of "range" for these animals. Most all the animals on the list studied by the team were found on less that one to three percent of their normal range. One exception was the Nubian ibex, still found on over half its normal range. But even the ibex is becoming vulnerable because of over-hunting.
A Nubian ibex in Israel. These animals still cover over half there normal range  but are considered ...
A Nubian ibex in Israel. These animals still cover over half there normal range, but are considered vulnerable because of over-hunting.
נצח פרביאש
Several reasons were given for the dramatic decline in the numbers of the animals studied. Hunting, obviously, is a huge problem and is wide-spread. This activity is decimating not only prey animals, but predators that depend on them. The extreme environment plays a role, as does the political instability of the area, hampering conservation efforts.
Climate change was also cited as playing a role in the decline of these animals. The impact of climate change is more noticeable in a desert bio-dome than in a tropical forest. This makes adaptation to the changing environment more urgent in desert biospheres.
Perhaps an even bigger reason for the decline in the large animals is a lack of world attention, not only to the wildlife of the Sahara, but also to the people dwelling in the desert. It is reasoned that more conservation efforts and scientific support needs to be put into the Sahara Desert, especially with the year 2014 being the halfway point in the UN's "Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification."
The year 2014 is also the fourth year into the UN's "Decade for Biodiversity." These conventions haven't been getting the attention they deserve, even though they are designed to address specific needs of the desert-dwellers, and the mega fauna of the region.
More about Sahara desert, Biodiversity, Megafauna, Tropical, Extinct
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