Marwell Wildlife, Al Ain Zoo, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and San Diego Zoo Global have initiated a project with the Tunisian Direction Générale des Forêts to evaluate the genetic diversity of addax across global ex-situ populations and the Tunisian metapopulation. The project will collect tissue samples from addax in Tunisia through biopsy darting, and blood as a part of veterinary screening in the ex-situ populations. Analysis of these samples will enable us to develop better metapopulation management policies and ensure that the remaining addax are able to persist and breed into the future.
The addax is a desert antelope that was once widespread and abundant across the dunes and gravel plains of the Sahara, but is now on the brink of extinction in the wild. It has been conserved and bred in zoos in Europe, North America, the Arabian Peninsula and Asia, and was released into fenced protected areas in Morocco and Tunisia between 1985 and 2007, with the Tunisian metapopulation split between three National Parks.
Given the critical situation of addax in the wild, a metapopulation approach may be the only option that many former range states can adopt if they want to see the return of the addax. Metapopulations consist of clusters of often small subpopulations that are interlinked to varying degrees. While offering a pragmatic solution, the creation of metapopulations in relatively small, fenced protected areas present challenges. Theoretically, these small isolated groups created from few and possibly closely related founders may suffer inbreeding depression and loss of genetic diversity. The metapopulation is likely to need management to offset potential problems and maximise the genetic diversity within the Tunisian, European, Arabian and North American populations. As metapopulation management becomes increasingly necessary for other populations and species, the addax scenario in Tunisia also offers an unprecedented opportunity to test a number of hypotheses under real world conditions. We anticipate the results having wider implications for conservation biology, but will also help inform practical decisions about the management of protected areas and the Tunisian addax population.
This project will begin in 2017 and run until 2019.
Photo credit: Addax in Djebil National Park, Tunisia. Photograph by Tim Woodfine, Marwell Wildlife