The Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme in Chad is a joint initiative of the Government of Chad and the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi . Under the overall leadership and management of the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi, on-the-ground implementation of the project is carried out by the Sahara Conservation Fund.
With a distribution that once extended unbroken across the sub-desert belt of Africa, from Mauritania and Morocco in the west to Egypt and Sudan in the east, the scimitar-horned oryx, a large and truly magnificent herding antelope, is now extinct in the wild due to a lethal combination of overhunting, drought and habitat loss.
The first critical target of the Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme in Chad is to have around 500 animals living unaided back into the wild.
The Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme is the fruit of a meticulous process of research, planning and consultation. Under the leadership of EAD and SCF, a major stakeholder meeting was held in Chad in 2012, followed by programme and budget planning at EAD in Abu Dhabi later the same year.
After feasibility studies were carried out by EAD, SCF and ZSL in 2013, it was decided to focus the project on Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve, a vast protected area set up in the 1960s specifically for the conservation of oryx and other desert species. This 93,687 km² protected area is one of the largest in the world and harbours some of the last remaining viable populations of dama and dorcas gazelles.
With the signing of project agreements between EAD and the Government of Chad, and EAD and SCF in 2014, work began on building a basecamp and pre-release pens in the reserve, and the selection of oryx from the nascent World Herd in Abu Dhabi for transport to Chad
EAD is curating the “World Herd” in Abu Dhabi to ensure a genetically diverse source population is used for reintroduction and providing additional technical expertise in wildlife management and veterinary services as well as arranging the cargo flights to transport the animals and supplies to Chad.
Further technical support for wildlife monitoring, oryx genetics and animal husbandry is being provided by the Zoological Society of London , the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute , the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland , Marwell Wildlife , and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
In March 2016, 25 oryx were flown to Chad and transferred to the pre-release pens for acclimatization. In August that year, they were released into the reserve; the first scimitar-horned oryx to be reintroduced since they were declared Extinct-in-the-Wild by IUCN in 2000.
Today, following two further shipments of oryx from Abu Dhabi, there are 90 animals in the wild, including 18 calves born in Chad. Over the coming years, the goal is to build up a viable, free-ranging and self-sustaining population of at least 500 animals. And in the longer term, have the oryx removed from the Extinct-in-the-Wild category and reassigned to a lower level of threat.
Chad’s oryx were exterminated during the early 1980s largely as a result of civil war in that country. The species became extinct in the wild sometime during the 1990s. In the mid-1960s, a wildlife trader by the name of Van den Brink captured some fifty oryx during two expeditions to central Chad. These were sent to zoos mainly in the United States and Europe to found today’s captive populations of this superbly adapted desert antelope. Today, the very survival of the species depends to a large extent on the offspring of the oryx captured in the 1960s, together with animals from different bloodlines that are to be found in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, where they have been bred successfully in captivity for a number of years.
Since the mid-1980s, efforts to restore the oryx to the wild have been carried out in a few countries, including Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia. But the big challenge was to find suitable habitat within the oryx’s recent historical grassland range large enough to allow them to breed and disperse freely, while ensuring they can live in security alongside other forms of land-use, such as pastoralism. SCF spearheaded international efforts to develop a global strategy for the restoration of the oryx and together with a large number of stakeholders developed a suite of tools for the selection of suitable conservation sites and the establishment of criteria critical for successful outcomes. A workshop was held in Chad in May 2012 to build a solid foundation and process amongst the various parties.
TAKING INNOVATIVE STEPS
To avoid some of the known bottlenecks from other reintroduction projects, a number of truly innovative steps have been taken. These include selection of highly suitable habitat from the outset, introduction of large numbers of animals at a time (100 per release instead of the usual 5-10), and the use of mobile fencing and infrastructure for the pre-release acclimatization process (4-6 months).
NEW MONITORING METHODS
SCF brought together specialists from the relevant domains (husbandry, genetics, transport, veterinary, etc.) to work on the project. They agreed on and planned specific action together with SCF, EAD, and the Government of Chad. Today, thanks to this fruitful collaboration, new monitoring methods have been elaborated in compliance with the project's constraints and specificities. They include animals collaring, gps monitoring, and behavioral study.
"Since 2000 the Scimitar-horned Oryx has been classified as "Extinct in the Wild" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. There have been no sightings for more than 25 years due to un-regulated hunting, loss of habitat and lack of resources for conservation. Leading the programme which endeavours to reinstate a viable population of this once extinct-in-the-wild majestic creature in its home range of Chad is dreams come true. The releases will provide us with invaluable data to develop a self-sustaining wild population"
H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General, Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi
A strong local support
Extinction Need Not Be Forever!
One of the most crucial components of the project is the collaboration with the local communities, the Government of Chad, the national wildlife authorities, administrative local authorities, and traditional leaders. SCF regularly meets with them unformally during fieldwork, sensitization campaigns on the ground, or more officially through workshops and officials gatherings. As of today, these very important stakeholders help the project in various ways, from providing information on their oryx sightings or reporting on the existing livestock diseases to fighting bushfires or preventing poaching. Recruiting and training local staff is a big priority to SCF. As of today, the project is very well seen and received. A lot of the locals, especially amongst the elders, have witnessed the extinction of the scimitar-horned oryx decades ago and are now thrilled to see the species back in the reserve.
NEWS ON THE PROJECT
To learn even more about the project, the following sources are available:
Desert species are going through a silent extinction that SCF wants to, if not reverse, at least halt. Please help us save the Sahelo-Saharan wildlife and participate in the biggest conservation efforts of all times! Spread the word on this tragedy and/or contribute to our initiatives by making a donation to SCF. Every act counts.
Image Nation’s Back to the Wild documentary screens in Beijing
June 28, 2019. The screening was held under the patronage of Dr Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri, Ambassador of the UAE to China and in partnership with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
December 6, 2018. To date, more than 150 captive-bred scimitar-horned oryx have been returned to the wild in Chad’s Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve. This vast protected area was set up in the 1960s specifically for the conservation of oryx and other desert species.