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Mhorr Gazelle declared extinct in Tunisia

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).

Annual population size of Mhorr Gazelle (Nanger dama mhorr) in Bou Hedma National Park, Tunisia, between 1990 and 2020 (Abdelkader Jebali / TWCS).

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.

The last Mhorr Gazelle (a male, left) that survived in Tunisia before the final demise of the species in 2020. To the right is a Scimitar oryx (Oryx dammah). Photo by Abdelkader Jebali / TWCS.

References:

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.

2 thoughts on “Mhorr Gazelle declared extinct in Tunisia”

    1. Je pense que le principal problème est le braconnage. Et par extrapolation, cela est dû au manque ou à l’insuffisance du contrôle des autorités du parc.

      J’ai vu des commentaires qui tentaient de blâmer la révolution tunisienne qui a provoqué un certain « désordre et d’insécurité » dans certaines parties du pays pendant un certain temps. Ils soutiennent que cela a provoqué une augmentation des activités de braconnage ; cela peut être vrai, mais ce n’est pas ce qui a causé le déclin rapide de cette population. La révolution a commencé fin 2010, et dans le graphique, nous pouvons voir clairement que le déclin a commencé depuis quelques années plus tôt. La prétendue augmentation du braconnage après la révolution a probablement donné le coup de grâce final à la population.

      Dans le sud du Maroc, la prédation par les chiens errants et le braconnage sont les deux principaux problèmes qui peuvent entraîner l’échec du projet si rien n’est fait pour remédier à la situation. Les chiens ou tout autre prédateur ne sont pas un problème en Tunisie, car la population s’est déjà adaptée au site et était même en augmentation.

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