At one time extinct in the wild, this desert antelope can once again be seen wandering the dry Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian oryx is an antelope that is highly specialised for its harsh desert environment (5). The bright white coat reflects the sun’s rays (2) and the hooves are splayed and shovel-like, providing a large surface area with which to walk on the sandy ground (5). The legs are brown in colour, with white bands on the ankles, and there are also brown markings on the face, on the bridge of the nose, the cheeks and a triangular patch on the forehead (2). Arabian oryx of both sexes have magnificent straight, ringed horns that can reach up to 68 centimetres in length (2); those of the female are thinner and longer than the male (6). Males have a tuft of hair on the throat, and the tails of both sexes are tufted at the ends (6) and dark brown/black on the lower half (2). Arabian oryx calves are brown with markings on their tail and knees (6), gaining adult markings by six months (7).
Arabian oryx are gregarious animals forming herds containing five to thirty individuals (3). The herds increase in size in good conditions, however, in poor conditions the group size is usually composed of a male, a couple of females and their young (5). Other males adopt a more solitary existence and hold large territories(5). These antelope seem to be able to detect rainfall from a great distance and have an almost nomadic way of life, travelling vast areas in search of precious new growth after intermittent rains (2). Females give birth to a single calf once a year if conditions are good; births can occur in any month and calves are weaned after three and a half months of age (2).
These antelope graze on grasses and herbs and will also take roots and tubers; they can go without direct water sources for long periods of time (8). Most activity occurs in the early morning and late evening with groups resting in the shade during the searing midday heat (5). Using their front hooves, oryx excavate depressions in the ground, which allow them to lie in cooler sand, and provide some protection against the fierce desert winds (5).
Once widespread on the Arabian Peninsula, reaching north into Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Sinai in Egypt (8). The last wild oryx was shot in 1972 and the species persisted only in captivity for a decade (8). Thanks to re-introduction efforts, wild populations now occur in Israel, Oman and Saudi Arabia, and it is likely that, with additional re-introduction programs currently taking place, this range will increase into other countries within the Arabian Peninsula (1).
The Bedouin people of the Arabian Peninsula traditionally hunted Arabian oryx for their meat and hides. The total decimation of the species did not occur until after the Second World War however, with the availability of firearms and motorised transport (5), and the demand for sport hunting (9). The species became extinct in the wild in 1972 when the last recorded animal was shot (8). Following the success of re-introduced herds during the 1990s, poaching once again has become a serious threat (5) and has devastated the Oman population (1).
The rescue of the Arabian oryx began in early 1960s when Fauna and Flora International had the foresight to capture wild oryx and transfer them to Phoenix Zoo in Arizona (8). Operation Oryx, as it became known, succeeded in establishing a large captive herd in the USA that could later be used for re-introductions(5). The first herds were released in Oman at Jaaluni in the Jiddat-al-Harasis in 1982 (8), with more populations subsequently established in Israel and Saudi Arabia (1). Over the years the wild population has grown, and in 2008 was estimated to number 1,100 individuals. The most recent conservation efforts for the Arabian oryx have taken place in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, where a release program that was begun in 2007 has released around 100 animals into the wild. The United Arab Emirates government is also funding re-introductions of this species into Jordan and is also considering releases into Yemen (1). Currently, an inter-governmental body known as The Coordinating Committee for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx oversees the coordination of conservation efforts for this species within the Arabian Peninsula (1). Despite the unfortunate poaching problems affecting the Oman population, the re-introduction of the Arabian oryx represents a remarkable conservation success story and an example of what international cooperation can achieve.
Tending to form a group with others of the same species by habitually living or moving in flocks or herds rather than alone.
Putting an animal or plant into an area where the species or sub-species previously lived but from which they are locally extinct - usually referring to projects aiming to re-establish self-perpetuating populations.
Area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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