In one of Africa’s last expansive wilderness areas, a momentous event has unfolded – the scimitar horned oryx, once declared extinct in the wild, has now been reclassified as endangered.
This historic shift represents the first time the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest conservation organization, has upgraded a species on it Red List from ‘Extinct in the Wild’ to ‘Endangered.’
The remarkable resurgence of the scimitar-horned oryx can be attributed to the collective conservation efforts of zoos globally. Additionally, game breeders in the Texas hill country played a pivotal role in sustaining the oryx population while collaborative initiatives between the governments of Abu Dhabi and Chad focused on a comprehensive reintroduction program.
Spanning approximately 30,000 square miles, an area equivalent to ten times the size of Yellowstone, this protected desert and savannah region emerged as the stronghold for the oryx’s revival.
In 2012, during a workshop in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, key stakeholders including Environment Abu Dhabi, the Chadian government, the Sahara Conservation Fund, and the Zoological Society of London successfully garnered support from local landowners and nomadic herders for the reintroduction initiative. The ambitious project began with Environment Abu Dhabi orchestrating the assembly of captive animals form zoos and private collections worldwide to ensure genetic diversity.
Chad, despite being one of the world’s most corrupt nations and ranking second-lowest on the UN Development Index, hosts the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve.
March 2016 marked a pivotal moment when the first 21 oryx, part of the carefully curated “world herd,” were gradually released into a designated section of the reserve. This fenced-off area allowed the animals to acclimatize to their surroundings. The significance of this endeavor was underscored when, spanning over 30 miles, a female oryx gave birth – the first such occurrence in its native habitat in more than three decades.
Later, in January 2017, an additional 14 oryx were transported from Abu Dhabi to the reserve in Chad, further fortifying the burgeoning population.
By 2022, the rewilded species underwent an official assessment by the IUCN’s Red List, leading to its reclassification as ‘Endangered’ rather than ‘Critically Endangered.’ The population, estimated between 140 and 160 individuals, demonstrated an upward trajectory, signifying a positive shift in the species’ conservation status.
This achievement stands as a testament to the success of international collaboration between scientific communities and governments. It also serves as a compelling example of the efficacy of zoological efforts to breed and reintroduce endangered and even extinct animals into the wild, provided there is suitable habitat for their return. The scimitar-horned oryx’s remarkable journey from the brink of extinction to a recovering population highlights the potential impact of dedicated conservation initiatives on preserving biodiversity.
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