By John Platt
First came Angola's civil war, which nearly wiped out the Giant Sable Antelope, along with 90% of the country's large animals. Now poachers threaten the last few hundred members of this critically endangered, and culturally important, species.
After Angola's 27-year civil ended it 2002, it was believed that the Giant Sable Antelope had been wiped out, a casualty of war. The species was rediscovered in 2005, and estimated at just 400 animals in 2007. Today, poaching has brought that number down to 200.
Pedro Vaz Pinto of the Giant Sable Conservation Project told Reuters "the numbers are so low that these animals may not sustain even occasional poaching." With numbers so low, genetic diversity is at risk, and according to the IUCN Red List, the species has already started hybridizing with another antelope species.
Vaz Pinto has spent years working to preserve the Giant Sable. He's the man who rediscovered the species after the end of the civil war, and he has helped to raise funds to pay local shepherds to monitor and protect the last of the antelopes.
The Giant Sable Antelope plays an important role in Angolan society, where it is the basis of many local legends. It's one of the country's national symbols, and hopefully that will help to keep it alive in the long-term, but for now, the situation remains grim.
Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in January 2009.