Antelope Breeding in Saudi Arabia
As part of restoring desert ecosystems, ZSL is helping with carefully managed reintroductions of antelope species to their former ranges. These programmes will protect highly threatened species from extinction and begin to restore the populations of antelope that used to flourish here.
Breeding at the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre
The King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre (KKWRC) was founded in 1987 by the Saudi Wildlife Commission (SWC) in order manage the vast private animal collection of the late King Khalid. Though set up as a centre to manage a large and varied animal collection, since 1989, ZSL has managed breeding programmes at the centre. The KKWRC is now a breeding centre for several important antelope, and carries out the research into antelope population ecology, epidemiology and genetics that is necessary for effective conservation action. So far, the mountain gazelle or Idmi has been bred successfully, along with Arabian sand gazelles.
Complementing the ZSL’s programmes at the KKWRC, the SWC’s National Wildlife Research Centre breeds Arabian Oryx (using animals from the Khalid collection),several gazelle and Ibex species, and the Houbaba Bustards.
As a result of this work, the Arabian Oryx is one of BIAZA's 'Top ten species dependent on BIAZA zoos' .
Animals bred at the KKWRC provided the founders for carefully-managed reintroductions of wild populations of Idmi and Arabian Sand Gazelles. These self-sustaining populations were developed in 3 protected areas (Ibex Reserve, Uruq Bani M’arid & Mahazat as-Sayd) and are still monitored and managed.
For example, in the 12000km2 Uruq Bani Ma'arid reserve we undertook one of the largest re-introduction projects ever. Captive-bred sand and mountain gazelles were released alongside Arabian oryx into an area where these species have been absent since the 1970s. The descendents of these founders are now the largest wild populations of gazelle in mainland Saudi Arabia. Occasionally more captive bred animals are used to supplement these wild populations that might be depleted by poaching, disease or natural catastrophe.
Caring for new populations
The scientific work of KKWRC, in collaboration with the SWC, is vital to keeping the reintroduced populations safe. Aerial monitoring of populations and regular reserve patrols ensure populations stay healthy and provide data on the reintroduced animals. The diseases of local livestock and wildlife are monitored to ensure they are not a threat. In addition, the effects of returning antelope to the Saharan ecosystems are studied through long-term vegetation records.
Restoring antelope will benefit indigenous peoples for whom antelope are culturally important and a source of livelihood, as well as the ecosystems the antelope helped maintain. To protect these populations in the long-term, the KKWRC has been involved in projects to with local communities and organisations, including the training of new rangers.