Addax calf born June 17, 2009, at Brookfield Zoo
The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is thrilled to announce the special birth of an addax antelope calf. The male, born on June 17, is a welcome addition to the North American zoo population because this species is on the brink of extinction in its native Africa mainly due to trophy hunting and civil unrest.
The calf’s name is Chad, which is the name of one of the last remaining countries in central Africa where addax are found. At birth, Chad weighed a healthy 15 pounds, but for unknown reasons, he was too weak to stand and nurse from his mom, Martha, 8. Concerned that he would not survive in his frail condition, animal care and veterinary staff made the decision to handrear him for the next several months with the hope of eventually being able to reintroduce him to the female herd. The Society’s nutritionist formulated a milk substitute that was nutritionally similar to his mother’s milk, and zookeepers have been taking turns caring and bottle-feeding him several times a day.
Putting on Pounds
While he gains size and strength, Chad can be seen in one of the outdoor yards along 31st Street. He is adjacent to the female addax for socialization. Staff are closely observing the herd’s behavior and reaction toward the calf. A chain-link fence separates the females from the calf but allows them to interact with him in a controlled manner. This slow and deliberate process helps ensure the highest standards of animal welfare and care for the young addax. It is hoped that by the time the calf is weaned at around 5 months old, he will be ready to reunite with the rest of the herd, which includes Martha; Tina, 8; and Aretha, 17. The sire, Winston, 8, is housed separately until the breeding season resumes this fall.
Brookfield Zoo has exhibited addax antelope since the second year of its existence—1935—and in 1941 was the first zoo in North America to have an addax birth. The Chicago Zoological Society has been an active participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Addax Species Survival Plan (SSP) since its inception in 1989. An SSP is a cooperative population management and conservation program for the species in North American zoos. The program manages the breeding of addax in zoos to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. This calf will play a vital role in its species’ survival. There are nearly 200 addax in zoos across the country and about 300 in the wild, so every addax born is crucial to saving this critically endangered antelope.
Zoo-born Addax Helping Counterparts in Wild
Once abundant in the entire African Sahara Desert, addax are now found only in a handful of Saharan countries in Africa. The last significant wild population of addax is found in Niger. Researchers studying Niger’s addax estimate that 200 animals, roughly two-thirds of the entire remaining wild population, are found in the Termit/Tin Toumma region of Niger. Outside of Niger, only a handful of free-roaming addax are found in countries like Chad, Mautritania, and possibly Mali. However, there is hope for the species thanks to an international collaborative effort involving zoos in North America and Europe, the Tunisian government, and the Convention on Migratory Species. Brookfield Zoo is one of more than 40 zoos worldwide that have provided support for the reintroduction of zoo-born addax into fenced reserves in Tunisia.
The project’s goal is to establish up to four subpopulations in fenced, protected areas that are several thousand hectares each in size. Once these protected populations grow to a viable size, the Tunisians hope to release addax beyond the reserve fences to repopulate the northern Sahara with free-ranging addax. In December 2007, with the support of zoos like Brookfield Zoo, 13 zoo-born addax (eight from North American zoos and five from European zoos) were introduced in their acclimation enclosure in Djebil National Park, Tunisia. They have since been released from the smaller acclimation pens into the larger 22,000-acre fenced reserve at Djebil, where they have joined 15 other addax born in Bou Hedma National Park, Tunisia. These Bou Hedma addax themselves are the descendants of zoo-born animals reintroduced there in the 1980s. These addax have now begun to reproduce, raising real hope that the Tunisians’ dream of addax roaming the Sahara once again will become a reality.
Addax Exchange Program
In order to ensure the long-term viability of the European and North American addax populations, animals are periodically exchanged among breeding programs. In 2006, Smokey, a now 9-year-old addax born at Brookfield Zoo, was one of five North American addax exported to Hannover Zoo in Germany, where he has been breeding with females in the Addax EEP population to bolster genetic diversity. Since his arrival in Germany, Smokey has sired four offspring. Smokey’s offspring in Europe and the addax calves currently being born at Brookfield Zoo will all be part of a pool of animals considered as possible candidates for reintroduction in Tunisia as future plans and funding develop.
Addax live in one of the most inhospitable habitats in the world, and they are the most desert-adapted antelope. Their feet are extra-large and spread out, perfect for staying on top of loose sand. Their legs are shorter than most antelope, giving them a low center of gravity and keeping them steady—even when the sand shifts under foot. They get nearly all the moisture they need from the sap of vegetation and from dew, going almost their entire lives without drinking water at all. When vegetation is not available, they can live off the water stored in their body fat. They are nomadic, with no fixed territory, following the rains that produce the plants on which they depend.
They have a relatively heavy body with a sandy-white coat in the summer that turns grayish-brown in the winter. White markings can be found on their legs and belly, with a black tuft of hair on their forehead, under the horns. Addax have some of the most impressive horns of all antelope. In older individuals, they can spiral almost three turns and extend nearly three feet. They are one of a group of species called “horse-like antelope,” which are unusual in that the females have horns as long as those of the males.