- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

PRETORIA, South Africa One of Africa's rarest and most spectacular animals, the giant black sable antelope of Angola, thought to have been wiped out during that country's long civil war, has been found alive by a South African scientific expedition.
Five of the animals, whose spectacular scimitar horns sweep back more than 5 feet over their heads, have been sighted in Cangandala National Park in Malanje province in north-central Angola by a team led by Wouter van Hoven of the University of Pretoria.
"It was such an emotional and exciting moment," Mr. van Hoven said. "There had been no recorded sighting of a giant black sable for more than 20 years, and none has ever been taken into captivity. People said it had probably been exterminated and ended up as hamburger patties."
Mr. van Hoven's discovery has been greeted with jubilation in Luanda, the Angolan capital, because the giant sable is the national symbol. Its magnificent head graces everything Angolan from postage stamps and passports to banknotes and the tailfins of the national airline. Even the rebel UNITA guerrillas who fought the government for 27 years until the war ended earlier this year used the giant sable as its resistance symbol.
Mr. van Hoven, 55, the head of the Center for Wildlife Management at Pretoria University, said the discovery was of enormous importance. "It is such a big mammalian species, and it would have been a disgrace on humanity if such a gracious animal had been allowed to disappear."
Mr. van Hoven's expedition was born as a result of his involvement with the Kissama Foundation, a multimillion-dollar project to restock Angola's once-teeming wildlife reserves with animals from Botswana and South Africa. During the 1975-2002 war an estimated 100,000 elephants, thousands of black rhino and great herds of buffalo were slaughtered by the government forces and their Cuban military supporters in addition to the UNITA rebels and their South African allies.
Ivory and rhino horn worth hundreds of millions of dollars poured out of Angola through criminal syndicates. In the course of one of the biggest slaughters of wildlife in the 20th century, no one could be sure whether the giant black sable had managed to survive.
Mr. van Hoven was accompanied by American scientist Richard Estes, 75, who 33 years ago studied the giant black sable in the field for 12 months. Mr. Estes then estimated they numbered about 1,000, located only in Cangandala, Luando and a corridor between the two parks.
"Richard is the only man on the planet to have studied the giant sable," Mr. van Hoven said.
The team combed the Luando reserve but saw nothing. Moving to Cangandala, they struck lucky. "We were on foot and knew we were on the trail because we'd picked up the spoor of giant sable. We were excited because there was also spoor of young animals. They were breeding.
"We were in open woodland where the grass was about a [yard] tall when suddenly two sable bulls broke cover. They were off like bullets, too fast for us to photograph them."
Mr. van Hoven plans to return next year with microlight aircraft to film the surviving giant sables from the air. He will have to fit this into his work on Operation Noah's Ark, which will bring 300 elephants, 150 giraffes and several ostriches, zebras and other animals on a South African navy supply ship to restock Angola's reserves.


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