Wildlife survives in Southern Sudan

It’s not often that you get to share any kind of good news when your subject is genocide. So imagine my surprise when I opened up my Google Reader account this morning and read that aerial surveys of south Sudan turned up the presence of some 1.2 million animals (white-eared kob, tiang antelope and Mongalla gazelle) that were thought to have been eradicated by 25 years of violence.

The survey project was conducted by J. Michael Fay, a conservationist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (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). Funding for the project also came from USAID under the USAID/U.S. Department of Agriculture Sudan Agreement and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. After years of fighting northern Sudan, Southern Sudan formed an autonomous region as part of a 2005 peace agreement, and will hold a referendum on independence in 2011.

“I have never seen wildlife like that, in such numbers, not even when flying over the mass migrations of the Serengeti,” said Fay. “This could represent the biggest migration of large mammals on earth.”

Fay, Elkan and Marjan also report an estimated 8,000 elephants, with concentrations mainly in the Sudd, the largest freshwater wetland in Africa. They also found evidence of even larger numbers of elephants in Boma and in the Jonglei landscape. According to the World Conservation Union’s African elephant database, there were no reliable records of elephants in Sudan.

“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.”

In sadder animal news, the last two white rhinos in Zambia were shot by poachers earlier this week, killing the female and wounding the male.

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