A further 23 Scimitar-horned Oryx were released into a remote part of Chad this week, as part of a long-term international conservation project to reinstate this most persecuted of antelope back into one of their historic strongholds. The species is believed to have become extinct in the wild during the early 1990s – the precise year is widely disputed – but are now showing signs of a revival following a release of an initial 23 animals last August into the same region. This was made possible after a group of 40-50 Oryx were taken from the wild into captivity in the 1960s after decades of hunting decimated their population across Northern Africa.
The majority of Oryx that survive today are direct descendants of that gene pool and this has enabled a rise in genetic diversity to be established alongside separate captive populations being held around the world, including: Australia, United Arab Emirates, Europe and the United States. Abu Dhabi now has a captive herd of around 3000. Prior to the first wild reintroduction, several hundred were translocated into fenced enclosures in Northern Africa. With the subsequent reintroduction showing signs of success, the green light was given to this week’s release. It’s hoped the first truly wild births will begin in the next month or so, with one calf having already been born in the wild to one of numerous does who conceived in captivity.
This is a rare, but emphatic zoo-led conservation success story and the circumstances are favourable for their numbers to increase. The hunting that took them to the brink of extinction no longer exists, at least not in their new territory, and the lions and cheetahs that would have predated upon them no longer exist in the region. Furthermore, there is now strong nomadic community support for their protection. Additionally, as grass-eating herbivores it has been relatively straightforward to habituate them into their new wild setting, as they don’t need to be taught how to hunt.
Further releases are planned in the region, with an ultimate aim of increasing their numbers to at least 500.