Many readers of this month’s National Geographic magazine were surprised to find that the world’s second largest—possibly even the largest—wildlife migration travels through the formerly war-torn region of southern Sudan. According to a USAID-supported study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the annual movement of the white-eared kob—a type of antelope—through Sudan’s Boma-Jonglei landscape rivals the famed wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. Despite two decades of a brutal civil war, the area has become a thriving habitat for an amazing diversity of familiar African wildlife, like elephants, giraffes, lions, and buffalo, as well as lesser known species, like the tiang and Mongalla gazelle.
WCS had surveyed southern Sudan’s wildlife in 1982, but by the time the war ended in 2005, no one knew how many animals remained. After seeing wildlife populations devastated by the wars in Angola and Mozambique, many scientists assumed the worst. WCS teamed up with USAID, the Government of Southern Sudan, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the damage—and were amazed at what they found. “I have never seen wildlife in such numbers, not even when flying over the mass migrations of the Serengeti,” said J. Michael Fay, a WCS field scientist and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who conducted the surveys. Fay said that the numbers of wildlife they found were akin to a gold miner who “found El Dorado.”
So how did these animals survive? It seems that the isolation brought on by the conflict actually ended up protecting the animals. National Geographic explains:
As bombs and land mines exploded, humans who didn’t flee into surrounding countries hid in the bush. So did elephants and other migratory beasts; some fell to hunters, but many evaded gunfire by finding refuge in hard-to-reach places. They became, in the minds of the southern Sudanese, fellow displaced victims of war…. Soldiers hunted and ate the animals, but they also had rules: They would not shoot males, and they would try to avoid hunting any species to extinction.
Today, as Sudan prepares for its January referenda on self-determination, there is a critical window to take action to ensure that southern Sudan’s future development plans protect the region’s stunning biodiversity and prioritize natural resource management.
Check out the amazing photos of Sudan’s wildlife on the National Geographic website.
Related: National Geographic featured a story on Madagascar’s environment in its September 2010 issue that highlighted many of the findings in the USAID-funded report: Paradise Lost? Lessons from 25 Years of Environment Programs in Madagascar.