The Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah) was classified as "Extinct in the Wild" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 1999. There have been no sightings for more than 25 years due to unregulated hunting, loss of habitat and lack of resources. The UAE is home to a captive population of more than 3,000 individuals- the world’s largest single population.
The Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme, led by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), the government of Chad and their implementing partner, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF), is possibly the world's most ambitious large mammal reintroduction programme and a huge step in the field of conservation. This initiative aims to create a healthy and viable population of up to 500 Scimitar-horned Oryx in an isolated natural reserve within the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in Chad.
The programme is inspired by the late Sheikh Zayed's legacy and efforts to protect endangered species and rehabilitate them in their natural habitat.
Length: 1.5 – 2.3 m
Width: up to 1.4 m
Weight: 100 – 210 kgs
Horn: Up to 1.2m
Historical Range: Extended from Morocco and Tunisia to Egypt, reaching south to Mauritania and Sudan
Behaviour: They are adapted to high temperatures, harsh environments and can live for long periods without drinking water.
Ensuring genetic diversity is critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of any animal population. The Deleika Conservation and Breeding Facility in Abu Dhabi has been the centre of a “world herd” with genetically diversified Scimitar-horned Oryx contributed from several institutions in European countries, USA and private collections in the UAE.
The number of collections that were contributed, focusing on the variety of their gene pool, ensures the maximum diversity and quality of the stock. This ensures that once they are released in the wild, they are genetically viable. Genetically diverse groups will naturally have better chances of survival.
First Steps - Home sweet home
Twenty-five years after the Scimitar-horned Oryx was driven to extinction, the desert antelope is once again roaming across the grasslands of where it was last known to exist in the wild: Chad’s Sahelian region.
Preparations for this epic homecoming for this majestic species and a significant step forward for wildlife conservation started back in March 2015 when the first animals were transported from Abu Dhabi to our pre-release facility in the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in Chad. The animals settled into the pre-release pens for an acclimatisation period of five months prior to their release into the wild.
A team of experts from EAD, SCF, SCBI and ZSL flew to Chad and fitted the Scimitar-horned Oryx with GPS collars. They have now been let out of their pre-release pens and are roaming freely. The Oryx seem to be settling into their natural habitat extremely well and are enjoying the sweet grasses that have resulted from the annual rains.
Intensive post-release monitoring
The 3-4 years life span of the collars, and the ability to remotely release and program them will help rangers to learn more about movement, behaviour, mortality and the ecology of the species in the wild. Overall, the data will tell scientists where they go seasonally, how far they travel, whether they stay together or disperse into different social groups, and even if a poacher has taken an animal.
The GPS collars are programmed to turn on and off at specific times, enabling scientists to monitor animal movements and compare them with landmarks in the environment—from shade trees to water sources to specific kinds of vegetation they like to eat. The collars also report the temperature and the animal's activity. An accelerometer in the collar can pinpoint an animal's movement in three directions; as an animal moves its head left to right or up and down. SCBI scientists will use this data to assess behaviours, including the amount of time an animal spends eating or avoiding predators. The collars are equipped with a drop-off mechanism that allows scientists to remove the collars without recapturing the animal. To ensure the success of the project the team will continuously evaluate the conditions at the release site and how the animal adapts to changes in the environment (natural or man-made). This requires establishing a baseline data prior to the release (biometric, health, behavioural, etc.), as well as assessing key parameters in released animals over time.
To address these questions, the exact fate of every founder animal will be studied at least over a period of time long enough for 2-3 cycles of reproduction to have occurred (2-3 years).
As a team monitors the Oryx that have already been released from the pre-facility, another 25 Oryx were shipped to Chad, fitted with GPS collars and held in a large fenced area to acclimatise prior to being released into the wild.