Endangered Species

Many of the larger vertebrate desert species are threatened and a number of species have been lost to global extinction. The openness of the desert habitat and naturally small population size makes large mammals and birds conspicuous and thus very vulnerable to overhunt-ing. Threatened species include the central Asian wild Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus), the onager (Equus hemionus; a wild ass of southwestern and central Asia), and large antelope species as the addax (Addax nasomacu-latus) of North Africa and the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx, Figure 18). Hunting is also the main reason that larger birds are endangered. Among birds many bustard species are threatened (e.g., the houbara, Chlamydotis sp.) or are already extinct (e.g., the Arabian subspecies of the ostrich: Struthio camelus syriacus). Large predators have been and continue to be extensively hunted since they are perceived to be a threat to livestock (e.g., desert subspecies of the Old World leopards, Panthera pardus jarvisi). International efforts to save many of the larger endangered animals are currently ongoing; many of these efforts involve reintroductions.

Figure 18 Many larger desert animals became extinct in the wild due to hunting pressure. These captive Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) are part of a breeding effort that led to release operations into formerly occupied desert ranges (Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia). Wadi Araba, Israel, May 2003. Photograph by C. Holzapfel.

Figure 18 Many larger desert animals became extinct in the wild due to hunting pressure. These captive Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) are part of a breeding effort that led to release operations into formerly occupied desert ranges (Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia). Wadi Araba, Israel, May 2003. Photograph by C. Holzapfel.

Invasive species can have detrimental effect on threatened species as well. An example is the increased fire frequency caused by annual, non-native grasses, which is threatening populations of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in the deserts of North America.

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