An important herd of scimitar-horned oryx from Marwell Zoo has arrived in Abu Dhabi as a critical step in an ambitious and globally pioneering conservation project. This large, arid adapted antelope became extinct in the wild, but a ground-breaking international initiative between The Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, and the Government of Chad seeks to re-establish a free-ranging population of oryx within the species’ historical range.
The scimitar-horned oryx from Marwell will breed at the Delaika Conservation and Breeding Facility in Abu Dhabi to produce animals for reintroduction into the vast 78,000 km2 Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in central Chad. Marwell Wildlife’s Conservation Biologists have been central to the planning of the project, including the careful selection of fourteen oryx from zoos across Europe to create a robust and genetically diverse founder population. Having been gathered together and managed at Marwell Zoo for a year and after stringent veterinary health checks, the oryx herd was flown to Abu Dhabi in December. They join an existing population of oryx in Abu Dhabi and others imported from the US to create a ‘world herd’ for the purpose of reintroduction. Preparation is already underway in Chad to receive animals for the release stage of the project.
Once occurring in large migratory herds that ranged over enormous tracts of the Sahara and bordering Sahelian grasslands, the scimitar-horned oryx disappeared from the wild in the late 20th Century because of uncontrolled hunting and habitat degradation. Marwell Wildlife manages the International Studbook for scimitar-horned oryx, and has been at the forefront of efforts to return the species to a series of fenced protected areas in Tunisia.
The initiative in Chad, being implemented on the ground by the Sahara Conservation Fund, will, for the first time re-establish the species in an unlimited and free-ranging environment. The scale of the operation makes it one of the largest and most ambitious species reintroduction efforts attempted anywhere in the world. The remote Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve was one of the last places scimitar-horned oryx were found in the wild and is now the best hope for their unrestricted return to nature.