Aircraft in the desert
Photo: Phil Henderson

Pilot Phil Henderson assists The Sahara Conservation Fund with aerial surveillance of one of the planet's most endangered species - the dama gazelle


The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) reports, “The dama gazelle is a symbol of beauty and elegance in Chad, and even elsewhere. Particularly vulnerable to poaching since the use of automatic weapons and vehicles has increased in the Sahara and Sahel, it is extremely rare to observe the species directly in the wild. The dama gazelle is one of the planet’s most endangered species, with less than 100 animals still living in the wild in four highly dispersed and isolated populations in Chad and Niger. SCF monitors these tiny remaining populations and leads the efforts to secure them across both countries.”

In January 2020, MAF was approached by SCF to participate in a mission to track and capture some of these endangered animals and move them to a reserve, so they can breed safely. Pilot Phil Henderson took the Cessna 182 and spent two days at a makeshift camp in the desert in western Chad, as part of a team who worked tirelessly over several days to achieve a remarkable goal.

Over the past few years, the gazelle’s habitat has been increasingly occupied by humans, bringing with them livestock who use the land for grazing, and pushing the wildlife further towards the margins of the available space. Poaching is also a threat. As a result, the population has been dwindling and the possibility of the total loss of the species has increased.

Gazelle in a MAF Cessna 182
Photo: Phil Henderson

Successful Mission

Using aircraft to cover the extensive area where the gazelles were thought to be, the team successfully tracked and tranquilized four of them, and transported them to ‘Base Camp Oryx’, a secure area where they can breed, and their valuable genetic material can be used to ensure the longevity of the species. One of the animals, which had been named Becki after the MAF Chad Pilot and Ops Manager, was flown by Phil in the 182; an exciting event for him as prior to that the only live cargo he had ever carried were two small rabbits. The gazelle was accompanied on the journey by a vet, and helpfully had some hosepipe fixed on its horns to avoid damage to the upholstery.

Phil commented afterwards that “Everyone was very happy to have the gazelles in their recovery enclosure, looking healthy.”  John Newby, Senior Adviser at SCF, added “It was great working with MAF and we hope to do so again.”

On February 24th 2020, the African Conservation Foundation published the following article about the mission.