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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Search on for giant antelope
Giant Sable
The Angolan Giant Sable is rare and could be extinct
Scientists are assembling in Angola to search for the Giant Sable antelope which has not been reliably sighted for 30 years.

American and South African wildlife experts and zoologists are driving in from South Africa to search the area of the last reliable sighting of the huge, black antelope.

There could be 100, there could be none

Professor Wouter van Hoven
expedition leader
The man who saw the Giant Sable then, Dr Richard Estes, is part of the scientific team.

Angola suffered almost constant civil war from 1975 until a cease-fire was signed this April and much of its wildlife perished amid the fighting.

Zoologists in the dark

The Sable antelope is found in eastern and south-eastern Africa in savannah and woodland areas.

The Giant Sable is found only in wooded areas of Angola, particularly in the Malanje region, south-east of the Angolan capital Luanda.

Zoologists have not made a definitive judgement on whether it is the same species as the more common Sable or whether it is a species in its own right.

The leader of the team searching for the Giant Sable, Professor Wouter van Hoven of the University of Pretoria, told the BBC that he was optimistic that they would find Giant Sables.

But he admitted that he could not be sure that they had survived.

"There could be 100, there could be none," he said.

Professor Van Hoven added that that if his expedition did find any Giant Sables, it would devise a plan for them to be protected where they were.

"They are an Angolan jewel, and they should remain in Angola," he said.

'New sighting'

The Giant Sable is significantly larger than the more common Sable and has huge curved horns.

It is used in Angola as the symbol for the national football team and for the national airline.

In 1974, before the civil war, the Giant Sable was already classed as a vulnerable species.

During the war, most of the areas in which the Giant Sable had previously been given official protection were evacuated and left unprotected for over 25 years.

In February 2001, the South African press agency reported that the Angolan authorities in Malanje had reported sightings of 25 Giant Sables after using army helicopters to search for them.

There has been no confirmation of that sighting and some zoologists fear that the Giant Sable is now extinct.

Jonas Savimbi, killed after 26 years of civil war

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See also:

07 Aug 02 | Africa
02 Aug 02 | Africa
04 Sep 00 | Africa
20 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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