Milestone: the scimitar-horned oryx downlisted from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered by IUCN

After nine years of the world’s most ambitious species reintroduction program, once ‘Extinct in the Wild’ scimitar-horned oryx now roam freely in the wild in Chad.

A population of 600 scimitar-horned oryx currently thrive in the wild through a ground-breaking effort led by the governments of Abu Dhabi and Chad in partnership with key international organisations.

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Abu Dhabi, 11 December 2023: The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has announced that its program to reintroduce the scimitar-horned oryx (SHO) in Chad has been successful in improving the conservation status of the species. The SHO is now back in the wild and been reclassified as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List after formerly being categorised as ‘Extinct in the Wild’.

This is a major conservation success story and has been accomplished in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Fisheries and Sustainable Development representing the Government of Chad, Sahara Conservation, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SNZCBI), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Saint Louis Zoo and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.

The reclassification is a testament to the positive impact of the world’s most ambitious reintroduction program, which was founded under the directive of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of EAD and inspired by the conservation legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder of the United Arab Emirates.

The reintroduction project, initiated in 2014, sought to promote a healthy and self-sustaining population in its natural habitat within Chad’s Ouadi Rimé – Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve.

Since 2016, EAD has successfully translocated 285 SHO into the wild in Chad, with wild herd numbers increasing to more than 600 scimitar-horned oryx by 2023, exceeding the original target of 500. Prior to their introduction, there were no wild oryx left in the wild. This increase in numbers and overall species management in the Reserve led to its lower threat classification on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Although there is an improvement in the species’ conservation status, some of the threats still exist and sustained efforts are still required to ensure the oryx’s long-term survival in the wild.

The SHO is a flagship species for an entire community of desert wildlife, plans and habitats. Its restoration and the related protection of its environment has had immense knock-on benefits for other species, such as other gazelles, carnivores, bustards and vultures.

The Agency has established a state-of-the art conservation endangered breeding facility at its Deleika Wildlife Conservation Centre in Abu Dhabi. Over the years EAD, working with its partners, has created and curated a ‘World Herd’ of genetically diverse scimitar-horned oryx which became the nucleus for the successive releases in Chad.

Her Excellency Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD, on the occasion said: “We are extremely honored and proud to announce that after years of hard work, we were able to successfully downlist the status of the Scimitar-horned Oryx from being ‘Extinct in the Wild’ to ‘Endangered’ according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. We would not have been able to achieve this remarkable goal without the support and commitment of our leadership, who take their inspiration from the late Sheikh Zayed.”

She added: “The reintroduction of species is a very long-term endeavor and calls for strong commitment, specialised knowledge and skills, solid partnerships, and significant funding – all of which were an integral part of the Scimitar-horned Oryx reintroduction program and resulted in its resounding success. We are extremely proud to have led this extraordinary conservation initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Sahara Conservation, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Saint Louis Zoo, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and the Crown Prince Court.”
“Regarded as one of the most ambitious large mammal conservation reintroduction programs in the world, the initiative has given hope for species restoration and has ignited interest both globally and in our region in attempting programs of a similar nature. The downlisting of the oryx is a major step forward in our efforts to improve the conservation status and chance of long-term survival of other endangered species such as the addax and dama gazelle. Research shows that the overall survival rate is greater than 85% in the wild.”

“One of the elements that contributed to our success was the experience we gained from our successful reintroduction program of the Arabian Oryx in Abu Dhabi. We realized that once we were successful within the UAE, then we should go beyond its borders.”

She elaborated: “The current downlisting of the scimitar-horned oryx is a very significant conservation milestone, but not the end of our collective efforts. We hope that the success of this program will inspire other partners to come forward and further support the rebuilding of scimitar-horned oryx, especially that the project has also benefited the community through capacity building, raising awareness and hiring of local people.”

She stated: “The success of the project can further be attributed to the fact that we now have third generation animals giving birth and we have a female oryx that now has had nine calves since its release in 2016. Since the launch of the project, we have had 510 scimitar-horned oryx and 103 addax calves born in the wild in Chad.”

The Chad Minister of the Environment, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development, H.E. Mahamat Abdelkerim Hanno said: “This is a historic moment not only for the scimitar-horned oryx but also for the Ouadi Rimé – Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve and for Chad. After more than three decades of absence, the return of the oryx is a testament to the commitment of both the Chadian government and the Chadian people to biodiversity conservation. It is our joint responsibility to ensure the protection of all wildlife, as well as its habitat to restore species like the oryx to their rightful place. Protecting the environment and wildlife is a concern and a priority for us all.”

Tim Woodfine, Chief Executive Officer of Sahara Conservation said: “At this critical time for our planet, the downlisting of the scimitar-horned oryx is a testament to collaboration and aspirations of all concerned to restore nature at scale. Downlisting of the oryx marks a milestone in one of the most ambitious conservation programs ever undertaken and contributes to putting the Sahara and the Sahel more firmly on the global conservation map.”
“The initiative is a glowing example of what can be achieved to save Africa’s imperiled wildlife if we all pull together and combine our conservation efforts. Thanks to the vision and leadership of the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, and to a strong partnership, negative conservation trends can be halted, stabilized and reversed. The successful reintroduction of the scimitar-horned oryx is paving the way for the recovery of other critically endangered species, like the addax and the dama gazelle, which are already benefitting from the conservation efforts in Chad. This fantastic result reminds us that efforts must continue to secure the long-term survival of what is still a threatened species, assuring partners and donors that we are on the right track.”

ZSL’s Director of Conservation and Policy, Andrew Terry said: “Species that are classified as Extinct in the Wild become almost so threatened that some call them lost causes. But this stunning achievement is a testament to what is possible. Building upon a great foundation of knowledge and expertise, and through the vision and support of the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, this partnership has not only brought this species back from the very brink of extinction, but established a viable future for many other species. The program has also supported protection of the local habitat, and training for local rangers and the community. This has made a huge contribution to conservation that must continue to be replicated and scaled”.

“The downlisting of the scimitar-horned oryx marks an exciting new chapter in the species’ story,” said Brandie Smith, the John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute “This milestone affirms that when global partners work together, we save species. We look forward to continuing our partnerships to protect the scimitar-horned oryx and other endangered species across the Sahel.”

Represented by the Ministry of Environment, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, the Chadian Government has managed the Ouadi Rimé – Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve and release area, enforcing the relevant wildlife laws to protect the species.
Working on the ground in Chad, Sahara Conservation has overseen the development of infrastructure and day-to-day management of the release site, provided technical and strategic expertise and maintained a continuous dialogue between the program, the Chadian government and the local Chadian population. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) conducted genetic testing on around 285 scimitar-horned oryx located at EAD’s wildlife management facilities. This herd was the core of the reintroduction program in the Republic of Chad.

Today, with over 4,000 animals, the UAE is home to one of the world’s largest populations of the SHO in the world. The securing, protection and solid management of the oryx’s habitat was an important factor in the success of the project. Without a secure and valid habitat, the SHO cannot prosper and expand as a species, which is essential for their long-term survival and sustainability.
EAD will continue to work with its partners in Chad to further improve the conservation status of other endangered species such as the addax and dama gazelle.

Facts about scimitar-horned oryx:
Scimitar-horned oryx are known for having long curved horns. They have a white coat with brown chest and black markings on their forehead and nose. The markings on the face and forehead can vary between light brown to light or dark gray. About 8 to 8.5 months after mating, females give birth to a single calf weighing around 10 kilogrammes. Scimitar-horned oryx become inactive in the heat of the day, seeking shade and digging out scrapes in the sand to reduce exposure to drying winds. They graze primarily during the early morning hours and the late evening into the night.
The species is native to Central and Northern Africa and according to existing data, the last SHO disappeared from Chad in the late 1980s. This led to the species being officially declared globally “Extinct in the Wild” by IUCN in 2000, with the only surviving animals held in or in captivity in breeding programs at zoos and in private collections across the world.