South Sudan collars animals to demystify migrations
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Conservationists have placed satellite and radio collars on animals for the first time in south Sudan to unravel patterns of little-understood mass antelope migrations, officials said on Wednesday.
The southern government is keen to try to develop tourism, which was growing before the country's north-south war, to try to shake off its dependency on northern-controlled oil revenues.
A 2005 peace accord ending more than two decades of civil war between Sudan's mostly Christian south and its Muslim north has allowed the U.S. non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the semi-autonomous southern government to do aerial counts of the mammal populations.
Now they want to track the movement of the animals.
"We need to know where they spend time, where they go, to protect them," Fraser Tong, acting director-general for wildlife in the south's Wildlife and Tourism Ministry, told Reuters. "It will also be useful for tourism."
Officials who surveyed animal numbers in 2007 and 2008 had expected antelope numbers to be devastated after years of war and illegal hunting by hard-pressed communities and poachers, but were surprised by their estimates of more than 753,000 white eared kob, more than 278,600 Mongalla gazelle and 155,460 tiang antelope, among others.
These estimates -- together more than 1.2 million animals -- would make the south's migrations as impressive as the wildebeest migrations in Tanzania and Kenya, which both have large tourism sectors, Paul Elkan WCS head in the south said.
Although the south's sheer size and remoteness has likely protected the antelopes, even in peacetime, wildlife management is difficult.
"We saw 5,000 tiang recently and we have no idea where they are now," Elkan said.
Nine elephants, 12 tiang antelopes and 12 white-eared kob antelopes were anesthetized from a helicopter and then collared, Elkan said.
The collar batteries should last around three years after which the collars will drop off.
South Sudan's tourism sector brought in revenues of about $1.5 million in the pre-war 1970s, Tong told Reuters, mostly from hunting, which has been banned to allow other ravaged populations such as buffalo and giraffe to recover.
The large wildlife migrations and what are possibly Africa's largest unbroken savannahs would be an obvious attraction, said Jesus Amunarrit, a tour guide from Spain's Kananga Operations who is scoping out the south for business.
"The potential is incredible," he said. "It is a paradise, a vast virgin landscape."
The south has 13 game reserves and six parks, including one of 20,000 square kilometers, but these are largely unadministered.
Some 2 million people were killed in the north-south war, over racial, religious and political differences.
(Reporting by Skye Wheeler)