To date, more than 150 captive-bred scimitar-horned oryx have been returned to the wild in Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve. This vast protected area was set up in the 1960s specifically for the conservation of oryx and other desert species.
The scimitar-horned oryx, a large antelope with distinctive long, backward-sweeping, curved horns, occurred across all Sahelo-Saharan countries from Morocco to the Nile Valley. The last strongholds were central Niger and central Chad. Sadly, the species is now considered extinct in the wild due to civil war and poaching.
The goal of the scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction programme is to build up a viable, free-ranging and self-sustaining population of at least 500 animals.
Only the healthiest antelope from the budding World Herd in Abu Dhabi are selected for the programme. The Deleika Conservation and Breeding Facility in Abu Dhabi hosts indeed a ‘world herd’, with genetically diversified animals donated from several institutes, zoos and private collections. If it were not for private collections and zoos, the scimitar-horned oryx would have completely disappeared.
Once in Chad, the vaccinated animals are maintained in a pre-release facility for acclimatisation for up to six months, and are equipped with GPS collars before the release.
The scimitar-horned oryx is actually not a true desert species, but an inhabitant of Sahelian grasslands (a biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south) and sparse acacia woodlands. It will migrate to suitable sub-desert habitats if pasture is available during the wet seasons. However, like desert ungulates, it usually satisfies its water requirements through the food it eats. Herd sizes vary from 10 to 300, with groups congregating in migrations.
The scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction programme began in 2016 as a joint initiative of the Government of Chad and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi. Under the leadership and management of the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi, on-the-ground implementation of the project is carried out by the Sahara Conservation Fund.
Further technical support for wildlife monitoring, oryx genetics and animal husbandry is being provided by the Zoological Society of London, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Marwell Wildlife, and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
Written by Yasmina Khaznawi, communications officer at Sahara Conservation Fund
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