Reintroducing scimitar-horned oryx to Chad

A ground-breaking initiative to reintroduce the scimitar-horned oryx to its historical range in the 78,000km² Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in central Chad. 

Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve was the last major stronghold of scimitar-horned oryx, which was classified Extinct in the Wild by the IUCN in 2000.

Following a long history of involvement in arid-land conservation, ZSL staff are working with the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD), the Government of Chad, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and an array of other partners on a project to restore the protected area and reintroduce the scimitar-horned oryx to its former range in Chad.

Why we are there

Until the late 1970s, the scimitar-horned oryx and other desert animals such as the dama gazelle, ostrich and addax antelope, thrived in Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve, one of the world’s largest protected areas at over 78,000km².

However, in the early 1980s there was a period of extended civil unrest, leading to a devastating decline in oryx numbers from overhunting. By the late 1990s, the species was believed to have gone extinct in the wild after the last remaining individuals in Chad and neighbouring Niger died out. Since then, the species has only existed in captivity, with over 220 zoological institutions contributing to a global captive breeding programme, and other collections being held in UAE and other Gulf states. There are also significant numbers in ranches in Texas.

Scimitar-horned oryx in the desert
Scimitar-horned oryx in Chad

Between 2009 and 2013, ZSL worked closely with the SCF and government partners on the Pan Sahara Wildlife Survey to collect updated information on the status of wildlife and land use in several regions where oryx were once found. The Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in central Chad emerged as the place with the highest potential for a successful reintroduction after surveys revealed that the Reserve, which supports large numbers of nomadic pastoralists and their livestock, still holds the world’s largest remaining dorcas gazelle population as well as healthy populations of bustards and most notably, a small population of the critically endangered dama gazelle.

Research also showed that despite increased livestock in the area and the oryx no longer existing in the wild, there was sufficient suitable habitat available to provide the species’ expected requirements.

This information highlighted the continued importance of the Reserve for conservation and its enormous potential to host a successful oryx reintroduction programme. 

Scimitar-horned oryx with camels
Scimitar-horned oryx among local livestock

Project milestones

Support from Stakeholders for the Programme & Planning the Release
A workshop held in N’Djamena, Chad in 2012 attended by a range of key stakeholders including local livestock association leaders, senior government officials and international experts, secured strong support for the rehabilitation of the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Reserve and the reintroduction of scimitar-horned oryx, including support from the President of Chad.  

The combination of national support and detailed background studies proved sufficient for the SCF to secure the backing of the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (the programme sponsor and lead in the programme’s management). Formal agreements between EAD, the Government of Chad (which is managing the Reserve and the release area, as well as enforcing wildlife laws) and the SCF were drawn up and the reintroduction programme was launched. 

In order to provide healthy, genetically diverse oryx for the programme, EAD has created a ‘World Herd’ in Abu Dhabi - a group assembled from global captive populations (including two animals from ZSL Whipsnade Zoo). 

The programme’s ambitious goal is to build a self-sustaining population of 500 wild oryx in Chad over the next five years. ZSL’s role in this will be to oversee post-release monitoring in the field alongside a Chadian team, focusing on oryx behaviour and most importantly of all, recording the first cases of courtship behaviour and detecting and reporting on the arrival of wild-born oryx. 

Scimitar-horned oryx are returned to homelands on the edge the Sahara desert
Scimitar-horned oryx are returned to homelands

First Oryx Release
In March 2016, the first group of captive-bred oryx was flown from Abu Dhabi to Chad. The oryx were initially released into a large fenced area containing natural vegetation to allow them to acclimatise to their new habitat in a secure area. In August 2016, after the rainy season had begun and the grasslands were at their most abundant, 21 oryx were released into the wild. Each individual was fitted with a GPS satellite collar, enabling them to be tracked and monitored on a daily basis by our partners, the Smithsonian Institute. 

During the six months following the release, the first group, which is composed mostly of young animals, ranged over 55km from the release site, remaining close together.  In September 2016, one female left the group to give birth to a calf, which is typical behaviour for the species. This is likely the first scimitar-horned oryx calf to be born in the wild in over 30 years. 

Mother and calf from Aug 2016 release
A scimitar-horned oryx with her calf

Second Oryx Release
In late January 2017, the second phase of the reintroduction programme was initiated, with a further group of 14 oryx being released into the reserve. In the first few days following their introduction, the oryx were recorded as grazing calmly close to the release site and are expected to follow their predecessors into the further reaches of the reserve over the coming weeks. 

ZSL conservationist, Tim Wacher, who first worked for ZSL on scimitar-horned oryx in 1985, said: “This reintroduction represents the result of decades of collaborative effort between national and international conservation organisations, the Government of Chad, the EAD and local Chadian communities. It’s been a privilege to play a part in returning this iconic species to its original homeland; releasing these animals back into their native arid grassland landscape, after more than two decades of absence, was an emotional moment for all involved. 

"The birth of the first calf has been hugely encouraging, as mother and baby both appear to be doing well. We have high hopes that one day in the not too distant future, herds of scimitar-horned oryx will once again be a common sight across the huge reserve and hopefully beyond”.

Key Species

Scimitar-horned oryx, Extinct in the Wild 
Dama gazelle, Critically Endangered
Dorcas gazelle Vulnerable
Arabian bustard Near threatened
Denham’s bustard Near threatened
Nubian bustard Near threatened

People involved

Tim Wacher is the lead ZSL scientist on this project

Partners & Sponsors

Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi
Government of Chad
Sahara Conservation Fund
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute