The mhorr, more commonly known as the Dama gazelles, were once a common sight in Naudhibou, Mauritania. But following years of local unrest and indiscriminate hunting, the species was pushed to the brink of extinction about half a century ago, leaving conservationists little hope about the species’ survival.
Learning about the animal’s existential threats, José Antonio Valverde, a Spanish army captain, and photographer made it his mission to help restore the gazelle’s population. To that end, in 1970, he set up a rescue operation to take the last remaining Dama gazelles to the Doñana national park in Spain, where he created a refuge for the animals.
A year later, Valverde moved the animals to facilities at the University of Almería, a region of Spain where the climate is similar to the desert environment the animals were naturally adapted to. Over the next four years, there were 19 specimens at the refuge.
The rescue mission soon morphed into a captive-breeding program to restore the species and allow their eventual reintroduction into the wild. The conservationists also started to welcome other endangered species into the program. Among these were gazelle species such as Dorcas and Cuvier’s, and a kind of sheep known as mouflon.
Now, half a century later, descendants of the Dama gazelles and those of the two other gazelle species number 4,000 and have been reintroduced in protected reserves Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal, reports El País.
While the conservationists are now focusing on new challenges related to the species’ long-term survival, such as inbreeding and the animals’ reintroduction beyond protected reserves, the successful population recovery efforts are definitely good news for biodiversity.