A wide variety of antelope have made the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park home over the years. The Zoo’s first included springbok, Indian gazelles or chinkaras, and blackbuck in the 1920s, and we’ve welcomed many births over the years. In 2011, the Zoo was the first facility in the world to welcome a royal antelope calf. Today, you can see various duikers, bontebok, gazelles, gerenuks, dik-diks, klipspringer, and royal antelope exhibited around the Zoo.
The Safari Park opened to the public in 1972, but we started moving animals into its expansive field enclosures two years earlier. Among its first residents were sable antelope and gemsbok. Today, our field enclosures are perfect for viewing large herds of gazelles, blackbuck, springbok, impalas, lechwes, kob, waterbuck, sable and roan antelope, blesbok, bontebok, white-bearded gnu, and addaxes, all going about their business very much like they would in the wild. And the Safari Park has had great breeding success with saigas and addra gazelle, species we’ve since reintroduced back into their native habitat. A guided tour on the Park’s Africa Tram provides a wonderful view of these interesting animals.
One major threat to virtually all antelope is hunting, for both horns and meat. However, culture and human attitudes toward these animals vary. For example, in Sierra Leone, the royal antelope Neotragus pygmaeus is rarely shot, but it can get caught in snares set for duikers and other hoofed animals. In Liberia, where it is regarded as cunning, there are widespread taboos on the hunting or eating of the royal antelope among the country’s ethnic groups. In contrast, the royal antelope makes up a significant part of the bushmeat trade in Côte d’Ivoire.
Saigas Saiga tatarica, addaxes Addax nasommaculatus, dama gazelles Nanger dama, Hunter's antelope Beatragus hunteri, and Aders' duikers Cephalophus adsersi are at critical risk, and several other antelope species are endangered.
Saigas are poached for their horns, which are highly valued in traditional Asian folk remedies. As with rhino horn, the demand far outpaces the supply, driving prices up and making poaching seem worth the risk. The impact has been jaw dropping: in 1994, there were about 1,350,000 saigas in Russia; today, there are a mere 65,000, with very few males, since poachers, who are mainly interested in the horns, take only the males.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park had a breeding herd of saigas, with over 100 calves born, setting a record among zoos. That experience was put to use to help the struggling wild populations. San Diego Zoo Global currently provides funding and expertise to saiga conservation efforts at the Center for Wild Animals and the Stepnoi Reserve in Russia. Some of the saigas born at the Center have been released into the Reserve, where they are watched over by trained rangers.
To help the rangers help the saigas, we provide funds for vehicles, gas, spotting scopes, and gasoline so the rangers can effectively patrol the Reserve to watch the health of the herds and address the poaching problem. To combat poaching, young male saigas born at the Center have their horns removed before release, and efforts are being made to inform the local people to the saigas’ plight. Education is a key component of the conservation efforts, where a Visitor’s Center now hosts programs about saigas for school children.
You can help us bring antelope species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.