Imagine the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) surprise when its aerial surveys confirmed the existence of more than 1.2 million white-eared kob, tiang antelope, and Mongalla gazelle grazing along the plains of Southern Sudan, where wildlife was thought to have been decimated by the decades-long conflict.
In fact, some species of wildlife—including a few thought to have gone the way of the dodo—have not only survived in spite of the war, but they're also thriving east of the Nile River in "numbers that rival those of the Serengeti," according to the New York-based non-profit.
The survey project was conducted by J. Michael Fay, a conservationist with the WCS and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; Paul Elkan, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Southern Sudan Country Program; and Malik Marjan, a Southern Sudanese Ph.D. candidate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. They worked in cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment, Wildlife Conservation, and Tourism of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). The area was last surveyed a quarter of a century ago.
"I have never seen wildlife like that, in such numbers, not even when flying over the mass migrations of the Serengeti," said Fay in a press release. "This could represent the biggest migration of large mammals on earth."Funded by USAID under the USAID/U.S. Department of Agriculture Sudan Agreement and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the survey also uncovered an estimated 8,000 elephants concentrated mainly in the Sudd, the largest freshwater wetland in Africa.
Fay, Elkan and Marjan also found evidence of even larger numbers of elephants in Boma and in the Jonglei landscape, which is all the more surprising when you consider that the World Conservation Union's African elephant database shows no reliable records of elephants in Sudan.
Also discovered: Populations of beisa oryx, thought to be extinct in the region, and the Nile lechwe, an antelope found nowhere else in the world, and presumed near extinction. More than 50 beisa oryx were sighted in the Borma area alone. Meanwhile, the survey team estimates that almost 4,000 Nile lechwe dwell in the Sudd swamps, alongside considerable populations of hippopotamus, buffalo and sitatunga.
"Although we were telling people that wildlife was still present in Southern Sudan, nobody believed us," said Maj. Gen. Alfred Akwoch, undersecretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Wildlife Conservation, and Tourism. "Thanks to the aerial surveys, we now know that wildlife resources, including elephants, are still intact in many areas, but also urgently need strong measures to conserve and manage them through joint efforts at all levels."
WCS has signed cooperation agreements with GoSS and the its Ministry of Environment, Wildlife Conservation, and Tourism to launch a conservation strategy to safeguard the region's wildlife and lands, which may now rank among the richest in Africa.
"Humanitarian and development NGOs are swarming into southern Sudan," said Fay. "With all the relief being poured into the region for development and the resource industries moving in, we could actually see this precious wildlife resource, which has thrived under these difficult circumstances, disappear. Ironically, the silver lining to this violent time in Sudan has been the animals flourishing." :: National Geographic