Hippotragus niger niger
(WAZA project 04027)

Custodian South African National Parks Mokala National Park Northern Cape South Africa. Sable Antelope survive extremely well in this area due to a lack of large predators and due to low tick loads as a result of low winter temperatures.

A group of four Sable Antelope (three females and a male) were reintroduced from Blijdorp Zoo Rotterdam to Graspan Kimberley in February 2002.

This was followed by two animals (one male and one female) from Dvur Kralove Zoo, Czech Republic in May 2002 and another four animals (one male and three females) in June 2003 from the Marwell Zoological Park in the United Kingdom. The Czech female was sterile. Graspan is a SANParks special species breeding facility that was associated with the
Vaalbos National Park. The animals bred well but it appeared some young calves were predated by jackals.

Four young males bred in the project were released with Televildt GPS collars into the Mapungubwe National Park which is situated on the Limpopo river where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa meet. A volunteer, Mr Mario Hohensee who had been at Graspan, monitored the four animals and had been trained to do post mortems in the case of mortality. The intention was to introduce a test group into an in situ environment to evaluate survival. We were specifically interested in the tick born disease theileriosis. Lion and leopard occur in the park. Three of the four were predated by leopards within 6 months. The collars were recovered and all data was collated. The fourth animal crossed the Limpopo and was last seen in the Tuli block of Botswana!Babies

A decision was made to wait until there were more animals in the project and then we would consider introducing a larger group. A 75% predation level can be expected when large predators occur so we did not perceive the effort a failure. Mario was joined by Rotterdam Zoo (Blijdorp) employee Mr Stefan Timmermans for a short period of time. Vaalbos was de-proclaimed and with this Back to Africa experienced some management problems at Graspan. Mario Hohensee had left to go back to Europe and was replaced by a young Dutch biologist Marjolein Sterk. Things were not ideal at Graspan so a decision was made to move the animals to a safer venue.

As a result of this in October 2007 eleven sables (9 cows and 2 bulls) were moved to a camp in the the new Mokala National Park where things improved tremendously. One cow never joined the group and died of unknown causes and another cow died of chrysalis phytobezzoars leaving 7 cows and 2 bulls.

Back to Africa made a policy decision not to expand the project until the new park was established.

They bred as follows:
2008 7 cows 2 bulls 4 calves born (13 animals)
2009 5 calves born (18 animals)
2010 5 calves born (23 animals)
2011 5 calves born (Total 28 animals)

The population had doubled in three years! This represents a viable start to a breeding herd, but the last 7 calves have been males! In 2010 the fence of the camp was brought down incorporating the herd into the greater Mokala National Park. These animals are no longer intensively managed and they fend for themselves.

Tourists visiting South African National Parks probably have a greater chance of seeing Sable in Mokala than they do in the Kruger National Park. Sable Antelope are successfully ranched under managed conditions in Southern Africa but the situation in our National Parks shows a general decline. The animals are now running wild in a National Park without management so this is showing signs of being a successful in situ reintroduction.

Back to Africa director Dr Hamish Currie and Mr Mario Hohensee who is still actively involved with Back to Africa visited Sable stud book keeper Mr Kim Skalborg Simonsen of Givskud Zoo Denmark who is the new EAZA stud book keeper in the month of July 2011. He was updated about the project.

Back to Africa director Dr Hamish Currie had a discussion in July 2011 with Dr Hector Magome (Managing Executive, Conservation Services) of South African National Parks to discuss the project. It is felt the project has gone through its teething stages and the future looks good. He has endorsed his continuing support and the possibility of future expansion.

In this way a really viable metapopulation will have been created using zoo born genes out bred with local animals.



Hippotragus equinus
(WAZA project 04026)

Custodian Big Game Parks Swaziland
Mlilwane Reserve Kingdom of Swaziland

Nine Roan were imported from Marwell Zoological Park in two groups (2003/2004) and another group of three from Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic in 2008. One of the Marwell females was sterile.

Essentially eight fertile females were imported in these three relocations.

The aims and objectives of the project are to breed these animals intensively until such time as a minimal viable population of sixty females is reached after which animals will be released into parks in an attempt to reintroduce this species in situ in the Kingdom of Swaziland. The last Roan died in Swaziland in 1961. Mlilwane North is still considered a suitable habitat for in situ reintroduction and fencing is underway to accommodate this. Two bulls were bought at a stock sale in Vaalwater in 2010 to bring new blood into the project. These were wild animals from the Percy Fyfe Reserve which is one of the last indigenous populations still existing in South Africa. The other indigenous population in South Africa is in the Kruger National Park which has decreased to less than sixty individuals. It is believed these indigenous animals have an inherent genetic resistance to the protozool disease theileriosis which is a major cause of mortality in Roan Antelope in Southern Africa. Bongo Antelope reintroduced on the slopes of mount Kenya from American zoos suffered major mortality from this disease.


All animals have names that are known to the keepers and records have been kept of sires and dams. However with so many animals in the project we are encouraging the managers to microchip all progeny so control is not lost. Dave Morgan from PAZAAB visited the project in mid 2011 and discussions have been held regarding setting up a Southern Africa Roan studbook which includes animals in the care of the South African National Zoological Gardens. This might not be practical as animals are released.

At present there are 28 animals in the project in 4 groups:
1) CAMP 1 (as one drives in) 12 animals running with Percy Fyfe Bull “Pumalanga"
2) CAMP 2 (Simelanes camp) 9 animals running with Percy Fyfe Bull “Figizolo”
3) OUTSIDE (running in main Mlilwane Reserve ) 4 males

The habitat in Swaziland compared to Kimberley is harsher for the animals due to a number of factors. Roan did occur here naturally with the last animal dying in a snare in 1961. The commitment of Mr Ted Reilly and is dedicated staff to this project is outstanding. All animals are inspected more than once a day. Veterinary direction is provided by Dr Johan Steyl of the University of Pretoria’s faculty of Veterinary Science. Problems have been experienced with calves in cold weather. Theileriosis has been a problem but the involvement of Dr Steyl in collaboration with the University of Pretoria has made a difference. The ticks at Mlilwane South are challenging but the intended release area in Mlilwane North is much higher with much fewer ticks so we are confident of success. Resistance of animals to tick born diseases is one thing and an animal’s inherent resistance to ticks another. It is hoped the infusion of genes from the Percy Fyfe bulls will assist this population with both these issues.

Toxic plants (Lippia, Senecio, etc) have also been a problem but improved veldt management involving mowing of grass has made a difference. Haemonchosis is a major challenge but management of this disease is being exercised. Finance is limited to complete the fencing but this is occurring in a progressive manner that should enable us to reach our objectives when a minimal viable population is achieved.

Dr Hamish Currie intended to visit EAZA Roan stud book keeper Mr Klaus Brunsing (who has visited the project) at Hannover Zoo when he attended the WAZA conference in Cologne in October 2010 but this was not possible due to Mr Brunsing's work obligations. He visited again in July 2011 but sadly Mr Brunsing was on leave.

Back to Africa is an African based non profit organization involved in the restoration of mammalian biodiversity in the African continent. We recognize that zoo populations should be recognized as metapopulations that can be used for species conservation. We encourage zoos to breed animals for reintroduction.

Projects of this nature are uncertain so it was the correct decision to learn with a “threatened” species rather than an endangered one. To have had this experience was invaluable when doing a similar project with the rarest mammal on earth (Northern White Rhinoceros).

Was this left too late? European Roan are of Ugandan origin but Roan are now no longer running wild in this country. However these genes are alive and well in Swaziland!

Most of our projects involve Intensive Protected Areas (IPA’s). These essentially, are zoos in the wild where rare and endangered species are managed to enhance their survival. IPA’s can involve zoo animals as a first step in their relocation back to the wild. They offer protection from predators and poachers and enable one to manage disease and manipulate nutrition when necessary. IPA’s make it easy to research and manage breeding programmes if so desired. Reintroduced animals are kept in IPA’s and bred until minimal viable populations are reached. Once this is achieved, populations can be released in situ.

We are comfortable with the genetic integrity of both populations. Simple husbandry practices are being exercised to avoid inbreeding, with old bulls being removed to avoid in breeding, and new blood is being introduced in the form of unrelated bulls. The commitment of the Swazi recipients is outstanding and unquestioned. Funding for fencing is taking time but it is happening acceptably. For this reason we would rather wait before expanding the project. SANParks has had nine years to assimilate the Sable project and Dr Magome’s recent commitment to this has been done with much thought as a result of the experience. For this reason Back to Africa believes it is a good idea to introduce more females that would result in a really viable population. This would achieve the long term objectives of repopulating a National Park. With so many bull calves been born augmentation of the population with more females is what is needed. Liaison with European zoological institutions is being done in the hopes of expediting this. Participant institutions and institutions holding these species could have poster presentations detailing the conservation effort. This would be of educational value and would again portray zoos in the positive light they deserve.

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