April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The world’s largest tropical desert, the Sahara, has suffered a catastrophic collapse of its wildlife populations, according to a new study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
The research team consisted of 40 scientists from 28 international organizations. They assessed 14 desert species, finding that half of those are regionally extinct or confined to one percent or less of their historical range. It is difficult to be certain of the causes of these declines because of a chronic lack of studies across the region due to political instability. The team suggests, however, that over-hunting is likely to have played a major role.
The Bubal hartebeest is completely extinct; the scimitar horned oryx is only found in captivity; and the African wild dog and African lion have disappeared from the Sahara. The study, published in Diversity and Distributions, reveals that other species have fared only marginally better. The dama gazelle and addax are gone from 99 percent of their range; the leopard has lost 97 percent of its range; and the Saharan cheetah has disappeared from 90 percent.
The only species that still inhabits most of its historical range is the Nubian ibex, but even this species is classified as vulnerable due to numerous threats including widespread hunting.
More conservation support and scientific attention for the desert is necessary, according to the team. They note that 2014 is the halfway point in the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification and the fourth year of the United Nations Decade for Biodiversity.
“The Sahara serves as an example of a wider historical neglect of deserts and the human communities who depend on them,” said Sarah Durant of WCS and ZSL. “The scientific community can make an important contribution to conservation in deserts by establishing baseline information on biodiversity and developing new approaches to sustainable management of desert species and ecosystems.”
Some governments in the region have recently made large commitments to protect the Sahara. For example, Niger has established the massive 37,451 square-mile Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve, which harbors most of the world’s 200 or so remaining wild addax and one of a handful of surviving populations of dama gazelle and Saharan cheetah. With the support of the Chadian government, the scientists hope to reintroduce the scimitar horned oryx in the wild in the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve.