Wildlife migration in Sudan, as big as Serengeti

Video of African elephant, taken at Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

From the New York Times in the USA:


Published: June 12, 2007

The first aerial survey of southern Sudan in 25 years has revealed vast migrating herds, rivaling those of the Serengeti plains, that have managed to survive 25 years of civil war, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Southern Sudan will announce today at a news conference in New York.

J. Michael Fay, a conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, who has participated in the surveys, said in a telephone interview from Chad that southern Sudan’s herds of more than a million gazelle and antelope may even surpass the Serengeti’s herds of wildebeest, making the newly surveyed migration the largest on earth.

“It’s so far beyond anything you’ve ever seen, you can’t believe it,” Dr. Fay said. “You think you’re hallucinating.”

Southern Sudan, an area of about 225,000 square miles, sits between the Sahara and Africa’s belt of tropical forests.

Wildlife biologists have long known that its grasslands, woodlands and swamps were home to elephants, zebras, giraffes and other animals.

Before the civil war, an estimated 900,000 white-eared kob (a kind of antelope) had been seen migrating there.

But in 1983 wildlife research ground to a halt with the outbreak of civil war. …

The white-eared kob were joined by hundreds of thousands of mongalla gazelles and tiang, a species of antelope.

They formed a gigantic column that stretched 30 miles across and 50 miles long.

“It was just solid animals the whole way,” Dr. Fay said.

The biologists estimated there were 1.3 million kob, tiang and gazelle in their survey area.

That is close to the size of migrating herds of wildebeest on the Serengeti, long considered the biggest migration of mammals.

But Dr. Fay and his colleagues suspected that because they were replicating prewar survey methods, their estimates were low.

New survey methods, such as digital photography, were likely to raise it above the Serengeti.

“My personal feeling is that it’s the biggest migration on earth,” Dr. Fay said, “but we just haven’t proved it yet.”

Other animals are also thriving in parts of Southern Sudan, including elephants, ostriches, lions, leopards, hippos and buffalo.

Biologists have even spotted oryx, which were thought to be extinct.

But some species are faring badly.

Southern Sudan used to be home to many zebras.

In the 1982 survey, scientists estimated that 20,000 were living in Boma National Park alone.

The Wildlife Conservation team found no zebras in Boma at all, and only a few elsewhere.

The scientists also observed that most species suffered badly in the western part of the region.

In 1981, about 60,000 buffalo lived in Southern Sudan National Park.

Now, Dr. Fay said, “Not one buffalo did we see.”

Geography may explain much of their results.

Poachers on horseback could ride into the western part of Southern Sudan, but the Nile River and a giant swamp called the Sudd proved to be an impenetrable shield protecting the eastern region of Southern Sudan.

Migrating animals also fared better than animals that stayed put year-round.

“Their wet-season refuge is very isolated, so even if they were heavily hunted in the dry season, they would have a buffer,” Dr. Elkan said.

See also here.

And here.

South Sudan: U.S. Government Inaugurates National Park Headquarters in Pristine Wildlife Area of Nation: here.

Wildlife makes dramatic return to Sudan; 7,000 elephants, 1,500 giraffes, 500 oryx antelopes estimated back: here.

After war, wildlife returns to Sudan: here.

Southern Sudan’s Wildlife Treasure: here.

Like Chad and migratory birds: here.

Exploitation of wild mammals in South-west Ethiopia during the Holocene: here.

8 thoughts on “Wildlife migration in Sudan, as big as Serengeti

  1. Angola: A New Species of Antelope Discovered

    Africa Journal (Washington, DC)

    6 June 2007
    Posted to the web 22 August 2007

    Pedro Vaz Pinto
    Washington, DC

    In 1909, Frank Varian, a Belgian engineer working for the Benguela Railroad in Central Angola, announced he had found a unique sable specimen carrying immense horns of over 60 inches in length; he was promptly ridiculed for his claim. The African antelope fauna was thought to be well known by then and few sable horns had ever surpassed the 40-inch mark. Varian was vindicated seven years later, in 1916, when the specimens he sent to London led to the description of an entirely new subspecies of sable antelope, Hippotragus niger variani, the appropriately-named Giant Black Sable Antelope of Angola.

    Its huge and perfectly arched horns, elegant and majestic features, and the coal black color of the mature male, make the giant sable arguably one of the most beautiful and regal antelope species in the world. For this reason it has always been sought after by naturalists, scientists and, unfortunately, hunters. Remarkably, its also one of the rarest of African mammals, and until the 1960’s was only known to occur on a depressed strip of land between the Luando and Kwanza Rivers covering approximately 8,000 square km. “The land between two rivers” was subsequently defined as a protected area by the Government of Angola, named the Luando Strict Reserve.

    It would take 40 more years, until 1962, when a second and smaller population of giant sable was officially “discovered” in Cangandala. One year later a government proclamation established Cangandala National Park. Instrumental to this “discovery,” was the cooperation of Kataba, the local Chief, who proved to be so knowledgeable about the giant sable that he was appointed as a honorary park ranger and was given the nickname of “pastor das palancas” – the Giant Sable Shepherd.

    Research and Discovery of the Giant Sable

    In the 1970s, the giant sable was studied by Dr. Richard Estes, who spent a full year in Luando Reserve. The animal was well protected by then and the total population was estimated to be as high as 2,000.

    However the civil situation in Angola would soon deteriorate following the country’s independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. Soon thereafter the conflict spread into the giant sable habitat areas.

    In 1982, Dr. Estes visited Angola on a World Conservation Union (IUCN) mission, and managed to photograph a few giant sables in Cangandala National Park.” These were the last reliable records for decades to come. In spite of having been elevated to the status of Angola’s national symbol, featured in the national currency notes, on the logo of national air carrier TAAG, used as nickname to refer to the national soccer team (“os palancas”), and proudly referred to by Angolans of all races, religions, and ideologies, little could be done to avoid its decline during a brutal 27-year civil war. As human populations struggled to survive, not surprisingly, wildlife conservation became the least of national or provincial priorities. Animals of all kinds, including giant sable antelopes, were indiscriminately killed by hungry people all over Angola.

    When enduring peace finally came in 2002, little was known about the situation on the ground in the giant sable areas but the first attempts to relocate the animal either failed or were considered inconclusive.

    Also, law enforcement measures in the Angolan protected areas were non-existent and this condition was expected to continue at least for the next few years. The international conservation community was preparing to receive the worst possible news: the giant sable antelope, one of the most magnificent African mammals, and one of the last to be discovered, might have become yet another casualty of human wars.

    The Giant Black Sable Conservation Project

    In 2003, the Scientific Research Centre of the Catholic University of Angola (UCAN) launched an ambitious project, the Palanca Negra Gigante Conservation Project, initially aimed at proving that this remarkable antelope had survived the civil war. The first Palanca Project attempts to locate the animals included long expeditions on foot and aerial surveys using microlight aircraft and military helicopters but they all failed to produce hard evidence. If alive, the giant sable was now even scarcer and more elusive than ever before and a new tactic of discovery was necessary.

    In October 2004 at Cangandala National Park the Palanca Project established the Palanca Shepherds Program, based in the same village, Bola Cassaxe, where Chief Kataba had originated. Local residents were proud to be descendants of the original sable shepherds and they felt strongly about the park and the giant sable and the need to save them both. The traditional symbolism of this beast is still powerful among residents. The establishment of the Shepherd Program meant that 20 members of the local communities could be trained and hired to become the new shepherds, giant sable guardians, and be integrated into the research activities and basic Cangandala National Park management initiatives.

    The shepherds played a decisive role in assisting the researchers to prove that a herd of giant sable was still alive in Cangandala. This was achieved through photographic trap cameras, triggered by infrared beams, which were planted around salt licks found by the shepherds and where they had claimed sables were regular visitors. Success came in March 2005 with the photography and publication of the first giant sable images in more than 20 years. The Angolan national symbol was still alive, and the news was received enthusiastically all over the country and by the international community.



  2. South Sudan to open first game park in 2008
    Sat Oct 6, 2007 10:30am EDT

    By Skye Wheeler

    JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) – South Sudan will invite bidders to run its first game park hotel set in the elephant-rich area of Nimule on the border with Uganda, the Wildlife Ministry’s director-general for tourism said.

    Joseph Oroto said they had almost completed the renovation of a 42-bed lodge set on a hill with views over the White Nile’s sweeping entrance from Uganda to Sudan where some 50 herds of elephants drink.

    “We will invite bidders from the private sector to run it,” said Oroto about the lodge set in the 410 sq km Nimule Park, which was established in colonial Sudan in 1939 because of its rolling landscape and exceptional fauna.

    “Phase one, the renovation, is almost completed,” Oroto said. “We should see the first clients by next April.”

    Decades of civil conflict that ended with a 2005 peace deal meant that while tourism in neighboring Kenya and Uganda has boomed, south Sudan has been a no-go area.

    The area has a small airstrip and is three hours by road from south Sudan’s capital Juba. A private firm will begin repairing the road next year.

    Oroto said his ministry had so far spent half of the $694,000 budget for the project on the renovation work. A conference hall and a water system are next on the list.

    His ministry’s total budget will be doubled to $30 million next year, indicative of the government’s commitment to wean the south off its dependency on its share of Sudan’s oil revenue towards other sectors, he said.

    “We have giant migrations, recent aerial surveys indicate of millions of animals, we have scenery and a very rich variation of cultures,” Oroto said.

    The civil war, Africa’s longest, which killed some 2 million people also preserved animal communities including two otherwise rare gazelles endemic to the south.

    Wildlife Minister James Loro Siricio said that while the south’s first tourists may be the “adventurous” type, gradual road development would open up 13 game reserves and six national parks, two of which cover 44,000 sq km alone.

    © Reuters 2007


  3. South Sudan collars animals to demystify migrations

    Wed Aug 12, 2009 11:32am EDT

    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Conservationists have placed satellite and radio collars on animals for the first time in south Sudan to unravel patterns of little-understood mass antelope migrations, officials said on Wednesday.

    The southern government is keen to try to develop tourism, which was growing before the country’s north-south war, to try to shake off its dependency on northern-controlled oil revenues.

    A 2005 peace accord ending more than two decades of civil war between Sudan’s mostly Christian south and its Muslim north has allowed the U.S. non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the semi-autonomous southern government to do aerial counts of the mammal populations.

    Now they want to track the movement of the animals.

    “We need to know where they spend time, where they go, to protect them,” Fraser Tong, acting director-general for wildlife in the south’s Wildlife and Tourism Ministry, told Reuters. “It will also be useful for tourism.”

    Officials who surveyed animal numbers in 2007 and 2008 had expected antelope numbers to be devastated after years of war and illegal hunting by hard-pressed communities and poachers, but were surprised by their estimates of more than 753,000 white eared kob, more than 278,600 Mongalla gazelle and 155,460 tiang antelope, among others.

    These estimates — together more than 1.2 million animals — would make the south’s migrations as impressive as the wildebeest migrations in Tanzania and Kenya, which both have large tourism sectors, Paul Elkan WCS head in the south said.

    Although the south’s sheer size and remoteness has likely protected the antelopes, even in peacetime, wildlife management is difficult.

    “We saw 5,000 tiang recently and we have no idea where they are now,” Elkan said.

    Nine elephants, 12 tiang antelopes and 12 white-eared kob antelopes were anesthetized from a helicopter and then collared, Elkan said.

    The collar batteries should last around three years after which the collars will drop off.

    South Sudan’s tourism sector brought in revenues of about $1.5 million in the pre-war 1970s, Tong told Reuters, mostly from hunting, which has been banned to allow other ravaged populations such as buffalo and giraffe to recover.

    The large wildlife migrations and what are possibly Africa’s largest unbroken savannahs would be an obvious attraction, said Jesus Amunarrit, a tour guide from Spain’s Kananga Operations who is scoping out the south for business.

    “The potential is incredible,” he said. “It is a paradise, a vast virgin landscape.”

    The south has 13 game reserves and six parks, including one of 20,000 square kilometers, but these are largely unadministered.

    Some 2 million people were killed in the north-south war, over racial, religious and political differences.

    (Reporting by Skye Wheeler)


  4. From the USA:

    The world’s second largest remaining terrestrial wildlife migration – the awe-inspiring mass movement of more than a million graceful gazelles, white-eared kob and tiang – somehow managed to survive 25 years of brutal civil war in Sudan.

    Now, these wonderful creatures stand on the brink of more change. On July 9th, South Sudan will be the world’s newest democracy – and wildlife, along with the country’s landscape and abundant natural resources, could be either its crown jewel or collateral damage during a time of massive change.

    Unfortunately, it’s at this crucial juncture that the U.S. government is considering significantly reducing funding for the very programs that will help ensure the survival of this miraculous migration.

    Send a letter to your members of Congress urging them to continue support for conservation of South Sudan’s incredible migration.

    Help us send 50,000 letters to Congress in support of South Sudan’s migration

    Funding from the USAID program supports critical development opportunities in the region that include:

    * Training local communities and government officials in natural resource management and wildlife law enforcement.

    * Conserving key migratory routes and habitat for wildlife through supporting the establishment of national parks and corridors.

    * Collecting information on wildlife, livestock and natural resource use in order to develop sound and sustainable environmental policies and land-use management systems.

    But foreign aid for conservation is on the chopping block just as we’ve come to this crossroads. Our government has made a sound investment in South Sudan’s wildlife, natural resource management and landscapes. With the country on the brink of independence and one of the world’s last great migrations at stake, we can’t turn our backs.

    Help us reach our 50,000-letter goal – write to Congress now to tell them that you support international conservation funding for South Sudan and other developing countries.

    Thank you for standing with us.


    James Deutsch
    Executive Director, Africa Program
    Wildlife Conservation Society


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