The return of the long-lost North-African ostrich to Tunisia

March 21, 2015

Conserving and reintroducing North-African ostriches is not only vital to retaining the diversity of ostrich but also to filling the gap left in the Sahara’s ecosystems.

At 9 feet tall, the North African ostrich Struthio camelus camelus is the largest of the subspecies of this giant, flightless bird. Also named red-necked ostriches for the characteristic bright colour of their skin, these birds once occupied much of the Saharan region. Despite its previously extensive range, the North African ostrich is now thought to be restricted to just a few fragmented populations in Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic and Senegal.

Ostriches were once abundant in the south of Tunisia, but following overexploitation had disappeared by the end of the Nineteenth Century, with the species last recorded in 1887. However, reintroduction efforts are now underway. A founder population has been created using birds imported from Souss Massa National Park in Morocco (originally acquired from Chad), and National Wildlife Research Centre in Saudi Arabia (originally acquired from Sudan).

During the initial phase of the project, young birds were raised to adulthood in captivity and then began to breed in captivity, while we trained local personnel in husbandry and monitoring techniques. Finally, at the end of 2014, nine adult birds were released into Dghoumes National Park, marking the return of the North African ostrich to Tunisia after an absence of 127 years. Another group was translocated to an acclimatisation enclosure in Sidi Toui National Park where they are being prepared for the next release. A third group is being managed at the Orbata Faunal Reserve, creating a breeding nucleus to supply birds for further releases into Tunisia’s protected areas.