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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 17:01 GMT
Rare antelope 'back from dead'
Giant sable (Centre for Wildlife Management at Pretoria University)
The giant sable is extremely rare and needs protection
Skins collected by a British explorer in the early 20th Century are being used in conservation efforts to save an endangered African antelope.

The giant sable was officially sighted again only last year after disappearing for 30 years.

They are doomed unless we can do something about increasing the genetic diversity

John Harrison, Powell Cotton Museum
There were fears that the beautiful antelope - which is found only in central Angola - had become extinct after decades of civil war.

South African scientists are trying to stop the animal dying out, with the help of a museum in Kent.

Quex House in Birchington has over 6,000 animal pelts - from gorillas to elephants - collected by Major Powell Cotton.

Breeding pool

The scientist and explorer travelled widely throughout Africa between 1899 and 1939, bringing back hundreds of mammal specimens.

Curator John Harrison (BBC)
Curator John Harrison: 'A scientific adventure'
"It was a scientific adventure he was on in a post-Darwinian environment," says John Harrison, curator of the Powell Cotton Museum. "He felt that in his lifetime there would be mass extinction of large mammals."

The institute allowed scientists to extract DNA from their specimens of the giant sable.

It was used to confirm that a male antelope found by South African researchers was in fact a pure giant sable.

The hope is that the bull animal can be used in breeding programmes to "strengthen the genetic stock".

National symbol

Conservationists believe there is a viable breeding population in the Cangandala National Park.

They are concerned, however, that the animals may die out because of inbreeding.

"They are doomed unless we can do something about increasing the genetic diversity," says Mr Harrison.

Giant sable (Centre for Wildlife Management at Pretoria University)
The giant sable is similar to the commonly found sable antelope
The giant sable is similar to the commonly found sable antelope, except for a variation in colour and longer horns of about 1.5 metres (five feet).

It is a symbol of pride in Angola; the national football team is named after it, and its horns are portrayed on planes belonging to the national airline.

The story of how the Powell Cotton Museum is helping scientists save the giant sable can be seen by viewers in the BBC South East region on 27 January at 19.30 on BBC One. The programme will also be streamed on the Kent BBCi website.


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14 Aug 02 | Africa
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