Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Scimitar-horned Oryx to be reintroduced into the wild in Chad

Extinct in the wild since 1990s - Courtesy of  Sahara Conservation Fund 
April 2012. The last wild scimitar-horned oryx probably died sometime in the early 1990s in the vast, open, sub-Saharan grasslands of Chad or Niger. 

The species' disappearance mirrors to a very large extent the colonization of its prairie rangelands by human beings and the growing impact of technology, changing land-use and climate change.
Once abundant - Hunted to extinction
The oryx was once abundant across its Sahelian habitat, from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Nile Valley in the east. For lack of accessible water for many months of the year, the area was only lightly occupied by nomadic herders. And while the oryx has always been a target of choice for traditional hunters, the odds were always in the antelope's favour until modern firearms and off-road vehicles made their appearance, first in North Africa, where the oryx became extinct by the mid- 19th Century, and then more gradually south of the Sahara.
Coupled with periodic drought, changing land-use patterns, habitat loss and civil strife, hunting has had a catastrophic impact on the oryx and many of the other species, like the addax and dama gazelle, with which it shares the Sahel and Sahara.
Chad was last stronghold
Up until its extinction in the wild, central Chad was the oryx's last major stronghold, with a population of at least 5000 animals occupying the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve, an Indiana-sized piece of sub-desert rangeland established in the 1960s specifically for the species' protection. Migratory in behaviour, it was possible to witness massed herds of oryx numbering over a thousand when gathered in undisturbed areas of fresh grazing.
Civil war
Civil war in Chad in the early 1980s put paid to all that but luckily a number of oryx had previously been captured and dispersed amongst zoos to form the basis of what is today the quite substantial oryx populations held in captivity in formal breeding programs and private collections.
Reintroduction into Chad
Since 2009, SCF has been spearheading efforts to develop a strategy for the restoration of the oryx. This has included range state and expert meetings, as well as two major ground surveys carried out by SCF and its partners, Chad's Wildlife Department and the Zoological Society of London, in the framework of the Pan Sahara Wildlife Survey.
Currently, SCF are working closely with Chad's Environment Ministry and the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) and other players to develop a project to reintroduce oryx back to the Ouadi Rimé reserve. In the coming weeks SCF will be carrying out further fieldwork and holding high level meetings in Chad to forward this initiative and to set out a timetable for the project's implementation. Both Chad and the reserve offer a very significant but increasingly rare opportunity to restore this magnificent animal back to its native habitat.
We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support in this truly ambitious project: St Louis Zoo, Addax & Oryx Foundation, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Al Ain Zoo, Convention on Migratory Species, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, and the Antelope, Reintroduction, and Conservation Breeding Specialist Groups of IUCN.

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