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Not one, not two, but three female addax calves have been born at Brookfield Zoo within the last two months, and one more is expected by the end of the summer. The most recent was born this past Saturday, July 9. The other two were born on May 30 and June 1. All are doing well and can be seen with their mothers—Martha, Sara, and Mali—on exhibit in their outdoor habitat on the north side of the zoo.

The three births are a welcomed addition to the North American zoo population because the species is critically endangered in its native Africa. Brookfield Zoo has exhibited addax since 1935 and in 1941 was the first zoo in North America to have an addax birth. Since the arrival of the first breeding pair, there have been 140 addax births at Brookfield Zoo.

“We are thrilled about the addax births at Brookfield Zoo and being able to share the significance and importance of these new additions with our guests,” said Amy Roberts, curator of mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society. “What is really exciting is that there is the possibility that one of the calves or their descendants may one day be introduced to the wild as part of a collaborative program.”

The pairing of the three new moms with Winston, who is the sire of all three calves, was based on a recommendation by the Association of Zoo and Aquariums’ Addax Species Survival Plan (SSP). The Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo, has been an active participant in the Addax SSP since its inception in 1989. An SSP is a cooperative population management and conservation program for the species in North American zoos. The program manages the breeding of addax in zoos to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. Currently, there are 159 addax in 18 accredited North American zoos.

Once widespread across North Africa, the addax has been largely driven to extinction in the wild by over-hunting since the mid-1800s as well as civil unrest. Additionally, although highly adapted to

hyper-arid conditions, addax are nonetheless impacted by long periods of severe drought. The current addax population is restricted to a narrow band of desert between eastern Niger and western Chad. Researchers estimate there to be less than 300 individuals remaining in the wild, with the last major population of around 200 in the Tin Toumma desert of eastern Niger.

However, there is hope for the species thanks to an international collaborative effort involving zoos in North America and Europe, the Tunisian government, and the Convention on Migratory Species. Brookfield Zoo is one of more than 40 zoos worldwide that has provided support for the reintroduction of zoo-born addax into fenced reserves in Tunisia.

Current efforts are focusing on securing the remaining wild populations in Niger and Chad, increasing scientific management of captive populations in Africa and elsewhere, and reintroducing individual animals to suitable, secure, and protected areas in former range states.

Addax have some of the most impressive horns of all antelope, which is one of the main reasons they have been over-hunted. In older individuals, they can spiral almost three turns and extend nearly three feet. They are one of a group of species called “horse-like antelope,” which are unusual in that the females have horns as long as those of the males.

The species lives in one of the most inhospitable habitats in the world, and they are the most desert-adapted antelope. Their feet are extra-large and spread out, perfect for staying on top of loose sand. Their legs are shorter than most antelope, giving them a low center of gravity and keeping them steady—even when the sand shifts under foot. They get nearly all the moisture they need from the sap of vegetation and from dew, going almost their entire lives without drinking water at all. When vegetation is not available, they can live off the water stored in their body fat. They are nomadic, with no fixed territory, following the rains that produce the plants on which they depend.

They have a relatively heavy body with a sandy-white coat in the summer that turns grayish-brown in the winter. White markings can be found on their legs and belly, with a black tuft of hair on their forehead, under the horns.