RZSS WildGenes Blog: Desert Gazelles in Danger

November 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last week I was involved in a number of meetings in Morocco on antelope conservation. The conservation situation for antelope in the Maghreb and Sahelo-Saharan region “North Africa” is extremely serious and RZSS WildGenes has had a long-term involvement in contributing basic science and genetic management recommendation for a number of these species to try and improve their conservation prospects in the wild and captivity. There are seven North African antelope species in total, all of which are listed as being Vulnerable or worse according to the IUCN red-list of threatened species.

Scimitar-horned oryx ready for transfer from Souss-Massa National Park, to another centre in Morocco. Scimitar-horned oryx are extinct in the wild, but there are large numbers in captivity. RZSS WildGenes is involved in generating genomic data to improve global management of this species with a number of partners world-wide.

Scimitar-horned oryx ready for transfer from Souss-Massa National Park, to another centre in Morocco. Scimitar-horned oryx are extinct in the wild, but there are large numbers in captivity. RZSS WildGenes is involved in generating genomic data to improve global management of this species with a number of partners world-wide.

The first stop for the week was conservation planning for the Endangered Cuvier’s Gazelle organised by the IUCN-Med, bringing together expert and stakeholders across the Maghreb region and Europe to thrash out a status review and plan of action for this mountain dwelling species. We often don’t even know basic things like how many animals there are or how important different threats are (in the case of Cuvier’s gazelle overgrazing, poaching, feral dogs all play their part). Without this information it is hard to implement and evaluate conservation actions with a scientific basis. We were also then lucky enough to visit the Souss-Massa National Park to see the work Le Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et Forêts et à la Lutte Contre la Désertification is doing to conserve addax (Critically Endangered), scimitar-horned oryx (Extinct In The Wild) and dorcas gazelle (Vulnerable).

Association Nature Initiative https://www.facebook.com/Association.Nature.Initiative radio tracking dama gazelle in Safia Reserve. They work round the clock to monitor the release site and implement many other conservation projects in the area.

Association Nature Initiative, radio tracking dama gazelle in Safia Reserve. They work round the clock to monitor the release site and implement many other conservation projects in the area.

In the second part of the week I travelled to the region of Dakhla, in the far west of the Sahara, to see the recent release site of the Critically Endangered Dama gazelle at Safia Reserve. RZSS has been involved in conservation action planning and genetic analysis support for this species for a number of years. Fewer than 300 dama gazelle are likely to be left in the wild and fewer than 1,500 in captivity. The world’s remaining animals are spread across various isolated populations and breeding centres, which means that genetic information is crucial for making management decision about captive breeding and transfer of animals in the wild. Further information about the dama gazelle can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/damagazellenetwork/home.

Through our continued involvement with antelope genetic management, the team at RZSS’s WildGenes laboratory hopes to be able to do our bit for the conservation of these undervalued species and their fragile desert ecosystems. More updates will follow soon!

Dr Helen Senn
RZSS WildGenes Programme Manager

Dama foot-prints heading off into the distance at Safia reserve. This is the first full release of this species into the wild and monitoring of its success will be vitally important to conservation efforts for this species globally.

Dama footprints heading off into the distance at Safia reserve. This is the first full release of this species into the wild and monitoring of its success will be vitally important to conservation efforts for this species globally.

RZSS WildGenes blog: Arabian sand gazelle

September 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Over the last year we’ve been involved with a project on Arabian sand gazelle with the Office for Conservation of the Environment (OCE) in Oman.

Entering the reserve, most famous for being the site of the first Arabian Oryx reintroduction.

Entering the reserve, most famous for being the site of the first Arabian Oryx reintroduction.

Arabian sand gazelle (Gazella marica) are listed as Vulnerable across their range and are extinct in the wild within Oman. It’s difficult to estimate true numbers, but there are probably no more than 10,000 animals living in remote sandy desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula, such as in the famous Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter. Today they are still under threat from illegal hunting (for meat and to a lesser extent for trophies) and habitat loss, and many exist within fenced protected areas.

Sand gazelle enclosures

Sand gazelle enclosures

The reserve

The reserve

The Office for Conservation of the Environment in Oman manages a collection of over 400 individual animals at the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve, in the central region of Oman. Over the last year, RZSS WildGenes has been collaborating with the OCE to use genetic analysis to make management decisions about this valuable collection of animals.

OCE staff at project presentation in Muscat

OCE staff at project presentation in Muscat

Blood samples were collected from the majority of the animals and tested in the labs at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. Here we ran genetic test to verify the origin and subspecies status of the animals in the collection. Gazelle taxonomy is very complicated and different gazelle species and subspecies can be hard to distinguish, so this was an important step. Information on genetic diversity and paternity then allowed us to develop breeding recommendation that would enable the population’s genetic diversity to be preserved most effectively in coming generations, both in captivity and for an anticipated reintroduction.

RZSS WildGenes works on a number of reintroductions both within Scotland and worldwide, and the aim is always to maximise the genetic diversity of the founding population to ensure that it is able to evolve and adapt in the face of change, be this environmental change or disease outbreak.

The project also involved training of Scientists from Oman at the laboratory in RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

RZSS WildGenes technicians Jennifer Kaden (Centre) and Muhammad Ghazali (Centre right) training scientist from the OCE and the laboratory in Edinburgh Zoo

RZSS WildGenes technicians Jennifer Kaden (Centre) and Muhammad Ghazali (Centre right) training scientist from the OCE and the laboratory in Edinburgh Zoo

Over the next year, RZSS WildGenes will be working with the OCE on a similar project for Arabian oryx.

Dr Helen Senn
RZSS WildGenes Programme Manager

Arabian oryx at the reserve

Arabian oryx at the reserve

RZSS WildGenes Blog: The Himalayan Wolf Project

September 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last week I was in Kathmandu setting up genetic analysis methods for the Himalayan Wolf Project.

The project, which aims to provide a scientific basis for national and international conservation of the Himalayan wolf, is led by Geraldine Werhahn who is a researcher with the University of Oxford’s WildCru. RZSS Wildgenes is partnering with the project by providing design of genetic protocols and training to the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, a laboratory in the capital Kathmandu.

Geraldine has just returned from a two month expedition to the remote Humla Valley where she surveyed the wolves and collected their scats for analysis. In future, surveys will be expanded across the region where wolves are now predominantly confined to remote high valleys. Wolves are threatened by hunting both for protection against livestock loss and for the wildlife trade as their paws are popular talismans.

The survey team on the move through wolf habitat.

The survey team on the move through wolf habitat.

Himalayan-Wolf-Project_2

Helen and the CMDN team at work testing the new protocols designed by the RZSS WildGenes lab team in the Kathmandu lab.

Himalayan-Wolf-Project_3

Discussing some initial results.

Masala chai break with Kathmandu sky line.

Masala chai break with Kathmandu sky line.

Whilst Geraldine has been spending long days at altitude (over 4000m) looking for samples, the WildGenes team has been busy at the lab at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo developing genetic protocols for analysis of the samples. We did this with the help of the keepers from RZSS Highland Wildlife Park who collected scats from our very own grey wolves so that we could test-run the methods.

Once we had the protocols up and running, I could travel to Kathmandu to transfer them to the team at the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal who will conduct the bulk of the analysis. We are aiming to use genetic profiling to understand how many wolves there are, what sex they are and how evolutionarily different they are from Eurasian grey wolf.

Dr Helen Senn
RZSS Research Scientist

What it’s all about: The elusive Himalayan wolf.

What it’s all about: The elusive Himalayan wolf.

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