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MAF transports endangered gazelles to support breeding programme in Chad

16th March 2022

Sedated dama gazelles are carefully secured in MAF’s plane at Abeche

Dama gazelles are one of earth’s most endangered species. Globally, only 100 are left with half of them living in Chad and Niger. To boost breeding, the Sahara Conservation Fund transferred several specimens from UAE’s Abu Dhabi Zoo to Ouadi Achim Wildlife Reserve in central Chad. MAF flew the animals from Abeche to Oryx – the last leg of their journey…

In Chad, a dama gazelle is a rare symbol of beauty and elegance.

Automatic weapons and vehicles however, are more commonplace. Thanks to human encroachment and poaching, this species is on the brink of extinction. Today, it’s extremely rare to observe dama gazelles in the wild.

The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) aims to change all that. By introducing several new specimens from the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Zoo to Ouadi Achim Wildlife Reserve in Chad, it’s hoped that their breeding programme will increase the local and global population. 

The gazelles are unloaded from the Ilyushin plane flown over from the UAE

Flying with MAF is fast and low risk

On 14 March 2022, SCF’s CEO John Watkin and his team, accompany the sedated animals on the last leg of their journey from Abeche to Oryx. By road it takes around ten hours, but with MAF it only takes 35 minutes! MAF pilot and Chad operations manager Becki Dillingham is at the helm.

John explains how the SCF plan to strengthen Chad’s damal gazelle population:

‘Back in the day, they were throughout the whole of the Sahel, but now they’re in a very compromised state. By breeding these animals at the breeding centre, they will mix with the genes from a number of other populations.

‘We’re going to have three populations of female damas with one male, and we hope to produce about 20 to 30 gazelle fawns per year in the next two years. Hopefully we’ll get the population up to about 150.

‘They will be released back into the wild once they are old enough not to be threatened by jackals and dogs from the nomad camps.’  

The gazelles have been kept safe in special crates for the bulk of their journey. In MAF’s plane they are simply strapped in

Dama gazelles are incredibly sensitive creatures says John:

‘For no reason at all dama gazelles can take off. If they’re not used to being in an enclosed space, they will often run into fences and do themselves terrible harm.

‘We wanted to reduce that risk as best we could, so we took the decision last year to sedate them and fly them across.’

John Watkin, CEO of Sahara Conservation Fund

The team are preparing to sedate the gazelles for the last leg from Abeche to Oryx

Preserving future species

After their release, John is happy to report that the animals are faring well:

‘They seem to be very happy with the situation. It will take them a couple of weeks to adapt to their new diet before moving onto a natural diet. We can’t change anything too quickly because the bacteria in their stomachs need to adapt. It can’t all be at once – it’s got to be a phased approach.’

In January 2020 – again with MAF’s help – the SCF introduced a female dama gazelle ‘Becki’ from Chad’s Manga Region into Ouadi Achim’s captive population.

‘Becki’ – named after MAF’s Becki Dillingham – was personally flown by MAF to Ouadi Achim and has successfully gone on to reproduce. John concludes:

‘Becki went on to have three fawns (two females, Shaika and Hiti, and one male, Kallé) and they are genetically very important individuals. The plan is to start breeding them with other individuals who are there, secure their genes and release them into the population.

‘These genes are important because of their diversity. Diverse genes mean that these animals will be able to withstand disease and harsh weather like floods or droughts. This genetic base is fundamental for biodiversity and dama’s global population, both in the wild and in captivity.’

Shaika was born on 25 August 2020, Hiti on 21 March 2021 and Kallé on 8 November 2021. The future survival of the dama now depends on fawns like these.

Becki (R) with one of her babies, Shaika (L)