Tim Wacher, Senior Conservation Biologist at ZSL, on reintroducing the scimitar-horned oryx back into the wild.
Scimitar-horned oryx were once widespread across the southern Sahara. They were almost exterminated in the 1970s by civil war, and continued hunting pressure and drought led to them finally being declared Extinct in the Wild in the 1990s.
Having studied wild oryx in Kenya for three years, I first became involved with scimitar-horned oryx and ZSL as a conservation biologist in 1985. We went on to support Arabian oryx reintroduction and to collaborate with the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) to find out if reintroduction of the scimitar-horned oryx to the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa might be feasible.
Years of survey and preparation followed, leading to selection of the vast Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in Chad as the best site for reintroduction. The evidence convinced the Government of Chad and the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) to take up this unique opportunity to restore this magnificent antelope to its original heartlands, and the first captive-bred scimitar-horned oryx stepped back into the desert it calls home in 2016.
The oryx have shown that they can still flourish in their native habitat, despite the changes in land use over the intervening 35 years. They search out and select food plants that meet their food and water needs, travelling long distances if necessary, and have survived the waterless 8-month dry seasons in excellent condition. And many of the females are getting pregnant again almost as soon as they’ve given birth, which only happens when they’re in good condition.
ZSL’s role in this reintroduction project, which is managed by the SCF in partnership with EAD and the Chadian government, is to ensure we have good information on the released oryx. What are their movements? How well are they surviving? How many calves are born, and how many survive to adulthood?
This information is vital if we are to keep the project on course. To get it, we’ve been training a great Chadian wildlife monitoring team, who use data from radio-collars and on-the-ground sightings to track the oryx. We’ve seen more than 100 calves born to the wild herd, which now numbers close to 250; and the adult female shown above was born in Chad herself in 2017, making her youngster a second-generation calf.
Would you like to stay up to date with our conservation news, success stories and ways you can protect amazing wildlife? Sign up to our emails below.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.