Angola - Giant Sable face extinction

Stuffed specimen in the Natural History Museum, London.


Both sexes have horns, which can reach 1.5 meters. Males and females are strikingly similar in appearance until they reach three years of age when the males become darker and develop majestic horns. The male antelope weighs an average of 238 kg with a height of 116-142 cm. Females weigh 220 kg and are slightly shorter than males. The horns are massive and more curved in males reaching lengths of 81-165 cm, while females' horns are only 61-102 cm in length. Coloration in bulls is black while females and young are chestnut, except in southern populations where females turn brown-black. Most sable antelopes have white "eyebrows", a rostrum sectioned into cheek stripes, white belly and rump patch. Young under two months typically are light brown and have slight markings.

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Malange - Angola's Giant Sable Antelope, a national symbol, is threatened with extinction by poachers after barely surviving three decades of war, the head of a conservation project said.

An estimated 200 of the long-horned animals remain in Angola, about 10% of the population in 1975, when a 27-year civil war broke out after the southwest African country gained independence from Portugal. The war ended in 2002.

Pedro Vaz Pinto, the man behind the Giant Sable Conservation Project at Cangandala National Park, estimates that poaching since the war has cut the population of giant sables in the park by 50% to one herd of 10 to 15 animals.

The remaining giant sables are believed to roam around the nearby Luando reserve, where Vaz Pinto's team is beginning to bolster efforts to preserve the species.

"The numbers are so low that these animals may not sustain even occasional poaching," Pedro Vaz Pinto told Reuters in an interview.

"Poaching is now one of the greatest threats to an already dwindling population."

The animals, known locally as Palanca Negra, were hunted during the war by hungry soldiers and refugees. Poachers now seek them out for bushmeat - the meat is dried before being sold in the market.

Vaz Pinto said the antelopes, which grace bank notes and the logos of the national airline and soccer team, faced an additional threat from people returning to remoter areas since the end of the war in 2002.

They have become so rare that most young people in the villages around the park, about 400km east of the capital Luanda, have never seen one.

Vaz Pinto started looking for the antelopes in 2003, tracking the notoriously shy animals on foot and by helicopter. They tend to roam in small herds of six to twelve, congregating near ponds and on grasslands.

Their speed, which can reach up to 22km/h, often enables them to elude researchers and, occasionally, poachers, who hunt the animals with assault rifles.

Many Angolans thought the antelopes had been wiped out until 2004 when Vaz Pinto took a photo of one using remote cameras triggered by an infrared beam.

He has since enlisted local shepherds who patrol for poachers and said he plans to continue to bring in more manpower and technology to help track and preserve the animals.

"Time is running out," said Vaz Pinto. "Hopefully 2009 will be a decisive year in the recovery of this national symbol." - Reuters
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One of the photographs of the Giant Sable antelope taken by the Catholic University's Centre for Scientific Studies and Investigation, using remote cameras. Photo © IRIN

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