With the death of the last Mhorr Gazelle in the Bou Hedma National Park this year, the species becomes officially extinct in Tunisia.
Dama gazelle (Nanger dama) is a Critically Endangered species endemic to the Sahel and Northwest Africa. Three subspecies are recognized, but only two are still surviving in the wild today (in Mali and Chad). The third subspecies, known as Mhorr gazelle (N. d. mhorr), went extinct in the wild in late 1960 (The last individuals were seen in Western Sahara, southern Morocco in 1968).
To bring the Mhorr Gazelle back to the wild, a number of reintroduction projects have been attempted, with varying degrees of success/failure, since the 1980s. Such projects have been undertaken, for example, in Senegal (Moreno et al. 2012), Tunisia and Morocco (Abáigar et al. 2019).
In the early 1990s, Tunisia initiated the (re)introduction of the species into the Bou Hedma National Park. In 1994, 14 gazelles were brought from the ‘Experimental Station of Arid Zones’ (EEZA) in Almeria (Spain) and released in the park. This group joined a few other gazelles which were released in the park earlier (see figure below).
The population growth was slow but steady which generated some hopes that the species can be saved in Tunisia.
However, an alarming decline of the population ensued and by 2011 the species become “functionally extinct” as all females have disappeared and only three males were present. This was reduced to just one male by the end of 2016.
The inevitable happened in early 2020 with the death of the last male in the National Park announced the ‘Tunisia Wildlife Conservation Society’ (TWCS) two weeks ago. It should be noted that the TWCS already sounded the alarm some years ago but to no avail.
This is another example of a failed reintroduction project. It’s nevertheless an experience that should be analysed to pinpoint what went wrong in order to avoid making the same mistakes in future projects not only in Tunisia but elsewhere as well.
Abáigar, T., Rodríguez-Caballero, E., Martínez, C., Amaouch, Z., Samlali, M. L., Aparicio, F., El Balla, T., Essalhi, A., Fernández, J., García, F., Haya, M., M’Bareck, A., M’Bareck, H., González, L. M. & Fernández de Larrínoa, P. 2019. The first reintroduction project for mhorr gazelle (Nanger dama mhorr) into the wild: Knowledge and experience gained to support future conservation actions. Global Ecology and Conservation 19: e00680.
Moreno, E., Sane, A., Benzal, J., Ibáñez, B., Sanz-Zuasti, J. & Espeso, G. 2012. Changes in habitat structure may explain decrease in reintroduced mohor gazelle population in the Guembeul Fauna Reserve, Senegal. Animals 2: 347–360.