By Jeremy Hance
Yesterday, the Niger government formally created the Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature and Cultural Reserve in the Sahara Desert, reports the Sahara Conservation Fund. The reserve, now one of the largest in Africa, expands existing protected areas to 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles), an area bigger than Hungary and nearly twice the size of Costa Rica.
The Sahara Conservation Fund calls the new park "a vast new protected area whose management will benefit both wildlife and local nomadic people through improved habitat use and the development amongst others of appropriate ecotourism."
The reserve contains three animals listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List: the addax (Addax nasomaculatus), considered the world's most imperiled antelope species; the dama gazelle (Nanger dama); and the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki), a subspecies of cheetah with only about 250 individuals left. The Termit and Tin Toumma Reserve holds what is believed to be the largest population of addax left.
Home to a total of 30 mammals and around 160 birds, the park also sports populations of Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia), listed as Vulnerable; sand cat (Felis margarita), Near Threatened; Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas), Vulnerable; lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos), Vulnerable; the Nubian bustard (Neotis nuba), Near Threatened; the African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), Vulnerable; and rarely studied pale fox (Vulpes pallida), Data Deficient.
The region was once one of the last strongholds of the scimitar oryx (Oryx dammah) before it went extinct in the wild, although there are still tantalizing, although unconfirmed, reports of scimitar oryx in Termit and Tin Toumma.
According to the Sahara Conservation Fund conservation fund the biggest threats to the region's wildlife are poaching and possibly oil development.