SCF Oryx Project Receives Strong Presidential Support

As SCF’s logo, the oryx represents the threats that face desert wildlife but also the hope that one day this magnificent animal will once again roam free on African soil. This once abundant species of antelope occupied the vast, dry, sub-Saharan grasslands but fell prey over time to a lethal combination of overhunting, drought and habitat loss.Thankfully, significant numbers of oryx exist in collections across the world and efforts to restore the species to the wild are underway in Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco. Confined as they are to relatively small fenced protected areas, often situated in atypical or heavily impacted habitat, the oryx has yet to gain its freedom to breed, disperse and reoccupy its historical sub-desert range.

Up until the late 1970s, the oryx and other associated desert animals, such as the dama gazelle, ostrich and addax, prospered in Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve, one of the world’s largest protected areas. Regrettably, Chad’s oryx were exterminated during the 1980s largely as a result of civil war in that country. Recent surveys, however, carried out by SCF and Chad’s National Parks and Wildlife Service have underlined the reserve’s enormous potential to host a successful oryx reintroduction project. There is abundant habitat and space to cater for the oryx’s needs and migrations. Initial contacts with the local authorities and the reserve’s inhabitants have also been very encouraging.

With project development in mind, SCF organized a major stakeholder workshop in the Chadian capital of N’Djaména in May this year. Facilitated by IUCN’s Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, the workshop and fieldtrip that preceded it brought together around 40 people from diverse interest groups, including local politicians and representatives from the reserve’s herders associations.

The results were extremely positive, paving the way for detailed project development to take place. The initiative not only has the strong backing of Chad’s Environment ministry but also the President of Chad himself, Mr Idriss Deby Itno. Called in to brief the President on the initiative, SCF’s Chairman, Dr Steve Monfort, and Director, John Newby, were warmly received and were able to share with the President and his senior advisers information on the importance of wildlife conservation in Chad and the hopes for the restoration of the oryx. A keen conservationist, Mr Deby warmly welcomed the initiative, promising his personal support and that of his government.

Over the coming months, SCF and its partners will be working closely with the Chadian authorities to develop a full project proposal that will combine oryx reintroduction with protected area management in a mutually reinforcing way. Starting from a core protection zone of several thousand square kilometres, oryx will be brought in, acclimatized, released and monitored. Over time, further animals will be released and secondary sites developed to create a network of recovery points within the reserve. Partnerships will be developed with the local communities and agencies active in the area’s developmentto ensure that win-win solutions can be found in developing the reserve’s space and resources for the mutual benefit of both people and wildlife.

The oryx reintroduction project is one of the most ambitious ever undertaken by SCF and we would like to thank the following organizations for their support, generosity and counsel in making this possible: HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Addax & Oryx Foundation, Al Ain Zoo & Aquarium, Convention on Migratory Species, Emirates Center for Wildlife Propagation, Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, International Fund for Houbara Conservation, IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Marwell Wildlife, Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Noé Conservation, Oxford University WildCRU, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Resources, Saint Louis Zoo, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Zoological Society of London.