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Reintroduction and Recovery

Operation Twiga:
The Living Desert is a partner and supporter of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s efforts in the historic effort to save Uganda’s giraffe. Oil development planned in the northern part of their core range has placed their future at risk, but there are unoccupied and protected areas in the southern part of their historic range in the Murchison Falls National Park. The problem is that the Nile River separates these two areas, and giraffe cannot swim well. So Operation Twiga involves the capture of giraffes in the north, placing them in trucks, crossing the Nile on a ferry, and then to the unoccupied area in the park. Eighteen Nubian giraffe were translocated in this manner in August 2017 to supplement an additional 19 from last January. The Living Desert’s part so far has been to provide the expensive antibiotics for the giraffe during the capture and translocation.

The Peninsular Pronghorn Recovery Program:
TLD is a founding member of the Peninsular Pronghorn Interest Group and is participant in the bi-national effort to save this endangered subspecies in Baja California and southern California.
Pronghorn are an American original and unique species, the second swiftest land mammal in the world. Their southern-most populations are endangered. The peninsular pronghorn subspecies in Baja California is critically endangered.

As many as 15,000 pronghorn antelope may have historically ranged the plains of the Baja California peninsula, from San Felipe to Magdalena Bay. In 1925, a range-wide survey estimated 500 pronghorn antelope on the Baja California peninsula. By 1980, the pronghorn antelope were limited to the El Vizcaino desert, an area of approximately 800,000 hectares, with a population estimate of 150 animals. The pronghorn antelope population continued to decline, until in 1994, a recovery program for the species was initiated. The program has been so that by 2010, the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve facilities held nearly 500.

Through the efforts of our Mexican partners Espacios Naturales and CONANP, and a consortium of U.S. zoos including The Living Desert a second wild population was established on the La Choya Peninsula in Baja in 2008. An insurance zoo population was also started with six zoos including The Living Desert currently holding a population of Peninsular pronghorn.

The Mexican Wolf SSP, the Reintroduction Projects and the Recovery Program:
Nearly extinct in the wild by the mid-1970s, it was placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List. A federal binational Recovery Team was tasked with providing a plan for recovering this subspecies in the wild. The first action was to save the few wolves remaining in the wild in Mexico before they disappeared forever. They were still being killed in livestock protection efforts. Five wolves were captured and brought to zoos in the U.S. to grow the population until the day that there was a plan for protecting them in the wild. That day came in 1998 when 11 Mexican wolves were released to the wild in central Arizona and New Mexico. In 2011, a second population was started in the Sierra Madre Occidental of old Mexico. Today these populations number at least 113 in the U.S. and approximately 20 in Mexico, and over 250 in the Mexican wolf SSP facilities. The reintroduced U.S. population is self-growing with only the addition of zoo-born pups to wild dens for the purpose of increasing genetic diversity in the wild population. The reintroduced Mexican population is still in the beginning stages with people on the land still learning how to live with wolves again. All of the Mexican wolves in the wild today are the result of the breeding effort of the Mexican Wolf SSP. The Mexican wolf would be extinct today, if it were not for the SSP.

The Living Desert has participated in this effort for over 25 years and has led the SSP that has made the reintroduction to the wild possible for the last 14 years.

Island Fox Rescue and Recovery:
On six Channel Islands in the bight of southern California live island foxes. The foxes on four of the six island suffered catastrophic decline in the 1990s due to introduced canine disease and golden eagle predation. By the late 90s they had declined 90%, and by 2003, they were placed in the federal endangered species list.

In the late 90s and early 2000s foxes were moved from the wild on each island to enclosures on each island for safe guarding and conservation breeding until the day that they could again be released to the wild. By the mid-2000s the threats of eagle predation and disease were better controlled and the foxes were once again released to the wild resulting in their return to early 90s numbers within only a few years. The foxes on three of the four endangered islands were removed from the endangered species in list in 2016, although the fourth population is still considered threatened.

The Living Desert was one of a few institution in the late 90s that knew something about keeping foxes under human care and we provided our expertise to the recovery program. In 2003 Peter Siminski was one of only two zoo professionals on the federal recovery team. He served as the team’s Captive Expertise Group leader.

The Reintroduction of Endangered Antelope in the Sahara:
Addax and scimitar-horned oryx, the largest desert antelopes, formerly inhabited large areas of the Sahara. Due to excessive hunting, habitat loss and periodic drought, the scimitar-horned oryx is now extinct in the wild and the addax critically endangered, with only small populations remaining. The Living Desert through the Sahara Conservation Fund is supporting the reintroduction and recovery of these magnificent creatures. In December 2007, one of our addax born at The Living Desert was placed in a pre-release pen in Tunisia’s Djebil National Parks on the edge of the Grand Erg Oriental of the Sahara.

The Living Desert and the Arabian Oryx:
In 1972, the last Arabian oryx was killed in the wild, only to exist in a few zoo. They were reintroduced to the Arabian Peninsula first in the 1980s, including three oryx born at The Living Desert. Today there are about 1,000 in the wild. In 2011, the Arabian oryx was the first animal to revert to Vulnerable status in the internationally recognized IUCN’s Red Data Book after previously being listed first as extinct in the wild then as endangered. Today, they are still vulnerable to poaching, the leading cause of their decline. Climate change may be their next threat.

California Condors Reintroduction to the Greater Grand Canyon Ecosystem:
The Greater Grand Canyon Ecoregion is one of only three places in the world where the highly endangered California condor is being reintroduced. Still few in number, they are vulnerable to many threats. In 2014, 2015 and 2017, The Living Desert financially supported the monitoring of this fragile population through The Peregrine Fund.

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