The addax is a large antelope whose coat is gray-brown in winter and almost white in summer. Black hair sprouts from its forehead and from the end of its 10- to 14-inch (25- to 36-centimeter) tail. Two long, thin, spiral horns (each twisting two or three times) extend up and back from the front of the animal’s head.

An average addax measures about 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length and about 3 feet (1 meter) in height at its shoulder. It weighs between 132 and 287 pounds (60 and 130 kilograms). A female addax usually gives birth to one infant after a gestation (pregnancy) period of eight to nine months.

The addax is at home in a desert environment. It receives all the water it needs from the plants it eats. With its long stride and splayed (spread apart) hooves, the animal easily crosses vast sandy areas in search of sparse desert vegetation. Addax usually travel at night in groups of 5 to 20.

Habitat and current distribution

In 2000, the population of addax in the wild was estimated at 200 animals. These were found in Africa in small, fragmented groups in remote areas of northeastern Niger, northern Chad, and along the border between Mauritania and Mali.

History and conservation measures

Addax once ranged in Africa from Western Sahara and Mauritania to Egypt and Sudan. Ancient Egyptians domesticated the slow and tame animals. These very traits have led to the animals’ present-day decline, as hunters easily capture addax for their prized meat and hide. In 1900, tens of thousands of addax were distributed over most of the Sahara, from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east.

The population of the species in the 1960s was estimated at slightly less than 10,000, with about 4,000 animals in Chad, about 5,000 in an area extending between Mauritania and Sudan, and 50 more in Algeria. By the early 1970s, the population had been severely reduced to 2,000 animals distributed within a much smaller range in Mauritania, North Mali, Libya, and North Sudan.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) gave the addax an endangered status in 1996 and then upgraded the status to critically endangered in 1999 to more accurately reflect the huge dangers the species faces.

Despite laws protecting the animals, hunting remains a threat. Additional perils currently facing the addax include drought and tourists who destroy addax habitat with their vehicles while tracking and chasing the animals.

In Niger, the 4,943-square-mile (12,810-square-kilometer) Aïr and Ténère National Nature Reserve provides a large protected habitat for addax. Tourism and other human activities are prohibited within the clearly marked park boundaries. Although addax have existed in this area for centuries, their current population is very low.

In the early 1990s, political disputes delayed the reintroduction into the reserve of 50 to 75 addax that had been bred in captivity. More than 1,000 addax are currently held in captivity in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.