Fossil Rim Wildlife Center staff has been working hard on behalf of the critically endangered addax antelope for several decades, and it has not gone unnoticed.
Just after the calendar rolled over to 2021, the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) announced that Fossil Rim had received the ZAA Long-Term Commitment and Significant Propagation of a Single Species Award for 2020. Fossil Rim Director of Animal Care Adam Eyres appreciates the acknowledgement, and addax will remain a priority species for the conservation center going forward.
“It’s really great being recognized for the work that Fossil Rim has done over the years for the conservation of species,” Eyres said.
Years before Fossil Rim opened its gates to the public or even carried the same name as it does today, what was a weekend hobby ranch in the 1970s began to house addax. The species seemed to thrive here from the beginning, to the point that there have been more than 700 addax born at Fossil Rim since 1989.
The climate is appropriate, plus they are robust animals with strong calves. Fossil Rim’s addax herd is in excess of 50 animals roaming 400-plus acres, which allows them to display natural behaviors.
“Part of the success of the addax program, and many other herd species at Fossil Rim, is that we can house them in a near-natural environment,” he said. “These, large, natural herds and vast landscapes provide them the opportunity to exhibit their normal behaviors.”
This is in stark contrast to an IUCN Red List categorization of “critically endangered” with a decreasing population trend. Addax may still be found in Chad, Niger, and possibly Mauritania, but the estimated wild population is less than 100 individuals.
While being comfortable in some of the harshest environments on Earth protected addax until the 1980s, their habitats are becoming increasingly more inhabited by humans. Oil exploration and cross-country treks are putting pressure on their already greatly reduced numbers. Surveys see very few animals, which does not bode well for their survival without major contributions from the world’s captive managers.
“Conservation of the wild addax is a very important part of what Fossil Rim strives for, too,” Eyres said. “We have been involved with the Sahara Conservation Fund for over 10 years, and they are dedicated to the preservation of the wild Sahara and Sahel region and the animals that live there.”
The breeding success with addax at Fossil Rim has afforded staff the chance to run important research, as well as opportunities for outside researchers from universities and zoological facilities to conduct studies to benefit captive and wild addax.
One of the first major projects with addax at Fossil Rim was a PhD study on DNA analysis and herd management for multiple male groups.
Other significant projects involved artificial insemination (with assistance from Texas A&M University), a male/female calf production study in relation to body condition (with help from Victoria University in New Zealand), and we have used the information from our addax herd to model numerous population scenarios. Addax were a species of focus for a paper that was written on the blood parameters of four species of neonates at Fossil Rim.
Further studies have included development of a body-condition scoring system, photo-ageing data that estimates the age of wild addax based on horn shape and length, anesthesia protocols, age of sexual maturity in male addax, behavior and habitat use, as well as genetics.
“The resource that Fossil Rim has always been able to provide are the animals,” he said. “We have these large herds on sizable tracts of land behaving ‘normally,’ and this is an opportunity to study them and hopefully learn important things about how they live. That will ultimately enable us to help other facilities that house addax and potentially aid wild addax, as well.”
Fossil Rim has always worked with a number of organizations and the private sector where addax are concerned. We have shared management techniques with facilities that manage addax, and we are a participant in the Source Population Alliance, which breeds addax as a priority species.
The Environmental Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) is beginning to reintroduce addax in Chad on the heels of its successful scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction project. There may be potential for U.S. and European zoos and wildlife facilities to contribute addax to the reintroduction, just as a number of them did regarding the oryx.
If so, Fossil Rim staff is optimistic that the facility will commit animals toward the reintroduction project. This blog post from Fossil Rim Associate Veterinarian Dr. Julie Swenson actually chronicles her January 2020 journey to Chad with Eyres to release a pilot group of 15 addax from the EAD into Chad: https://tinyurl.com/rfn6no8.
“Through the Sahara Conservation Fund and the EAD, Fossil Rim has been very honored to participate in these projects,” Eyres said. “The release of addax in January 2020 was a monumental achievement for the conservation of this species and will hopefully be the beginning of their comeback in the wild.”
At Fossil Rim, we try to keep the public informed of addax conservation and the work we are doing for the species. Guests can take guided tours and hear about all aspects of addax conservation, plus those who visit in their own vehicles are able to utilize our website and social media to learn more about this critically endangered species. The tours, marketing, and education departments all emphasize the importance of addax within the Fossil Rim collection.
“To some, the addax is just a fun animal to have come up to the car and provide feed for when you are visiting,” he said. “But, the more you learn about this species, the more you recognize that it is an incredibly well-adapted animal that is capable of living in one of the harshest environments on Earth.”
Fossil Rim was also honored to win this award in regard to its cheetah program in 2019 and its Attwater’s prairie chicken program in 2017.
“ZAA recognizes the exceptional efforts of our institutions that have reached significant propagation goals and have dedicated outstanding commitment to a single species,” the organization said. “This award recognizes any species, whether common or endangered, where the institution has produced long-term success in establishing the husbandry results for breeding while showing commitment to sustainability of the species.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate