Emptying the Desert

December 3, 2013

The world's largest tropical desert, the Sahara, has recently suffered a catastrophic collapse of wildlife populations. Four species of large mammals are already extinct. Dr. Sarah Durant explains the urgency behind conserving the desert's remaining biodiversity.

There are few landscapes more evocative and beautiful than the sweeping sands and majestic mountains of the Sahara desert. This land used to be widely populated by large animals uniquely adapted to the harsh and unpredictable desert environment. Their ability to roam freely across a vast landscape following sparse rainfall and forage is key to their survival in an unforgiving habitat.

However, over recent times, there has been a catastrophic decline in wildlife in the Sahara. In a new article that documents the status of large animal species in the region, we show that, out of 14 species historically found in the Sahara, most have been eradicated from 90% or more of their historical range.

Several species have disappeared entirely. The last known photograph of the iconic Scimitar horned oryx was taken in 1982 by John Newby, and the species was declared extinct in the wild in 1999 (it only survives now in captivity).

Less information survives on the precise time of disappearance of another three species that have been eradicated from the region: the lion; bubal hartebeest; and the African wild dog. Critically endangered addax, dama gazelle and Saharan cheetah cling on in tiny fragmented populations, while endangered populations of slender-horned and Cuvier’s gazelles are not faring much better.

Read Dr. Sarah Durant's blog on Nat Geo NewsWatch >>

Read the press release >>
~/media/Images/wcs org/forms/please donate to help conservation.png

Popular Tags