Scimitar-horned oryx project
We’re working with the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD), the Government of Chad, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) andother partners to restore the protected area and reintroduce the scimitar-horned oryx to its former range, Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in Chad.
Our work with the scimitar-horned oryx in Africa
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.
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 be 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.
Between 2009 and 2013, we 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. 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.
Gaining support for the scimitar-horned oryx project
At a workshop 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.
We secured the backing of the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi. 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.
To provide healthy, genetically diverse oryx for the programme, EAD created a ‘World Herd’ in Abu Dhabi - a group assembled from global captive populations (including two animals from Whipsnade Zoo).
The programme’s goal is to build a self-sustaining population of 500 wild oryx in Chad over the next five years.
Our role is to oversee post-release monitoring in the field alongside a Chadian team, focusing on oryx behaviour and recording the first cases of courtship behaviour, and detecting and reporting on the arrival of wild-born oryx.
oryx released into the wild in 2017
oryx released into the wild in August 2016
First scimitar-horned oryx release
In March 2016, the first group of captive-bred oryx were flown from Abu Dhabi to Chad. and 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 oryx was fitted with a GPS satellite collar, so they could be to be tracked and monitored daily by our partners, the Smithsonian Institute.
During the six months following the release, the group ranged over 55km from the release site, remaining close together. In September 2016, one female left the group to give birth to a calf (typical behaviour for the species). This is likely the first scimitar-horned oryx calf to be born in the wild in over 30 years.
Second scimitar-horned oryx release
In late January 2017, a 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 predecesors 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.”
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