Oryx roam Chad jungles again after Abu Dhabi programme

Oryx roam Chad jungles again after Abu Dhabi programme

Silvia Radan

Published: Tue 30 Aug 2016, 2:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 30 Aug 2016, 4:08 PM

Nearly 30 years after the Scimitar-horned Oryx was driven to extinction, the African antelope returns to the last-known place it existed: Chad's Sahelian grasslands.
This was possible due to the Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme, led by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), the government of Chad and their implementing partner, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF).
In March this year, EAD sent 25 Scimitar-horned Oryx from Abu Dhabi to Chad, travelling on a cargo airplane. They got there safely and settled safely in a pen within the reserve.
On August 20, the animals were finally released into the wild and the news so far is that they are all doing well.
"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 a dream come true. This initial release will provide us with invaluable data to develop a self-sustaining wild population," said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD's secretary general.
The Scimitar-horned Oryx has been classified as extinct in the wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2000. There have been no sightings for 27 years due to unregulated hunting, loss of habitat and lack of resources for conservation. In Chad, the last Oryx was killed in 1989.
The reintroduction programme, which will go on for five years and will release between 300 and 500 Scimitar-horned Oryx into Chad's Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve, is believed to be the world's most ambitious large mammal reintroduction programme and a huge step in the field of conservation.
For now, though, the project is far from being a success yet. As Steve Monfort of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), also involved in the project said, "we're 10 steps down the road that's 30 steps long".
The Sahelian landscape has changed a lot since Oryx last roamed here, and the new arrivals will now be competing for grazing rights and access to water with other "residents" of the reserve.
Poachers too pose a threat and there is also the genetic concern for breeding.
The good news, though, is that several of the released Oryx are believed to be pregnant.
"If a few calves are born soon after the release, they may imprint on the release site and return periodically," Monfort said, adding that the team on the ground will provide water at the site especially during the dry season, which may also help to imprint the herd to the location.
"It would be a momentous occasion-the first Oryx born on native soil in decades," he added.
During the day of the release, all Oryx went out of the pen, except for one female and one male that returned to be with her.
According to Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, executive director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, a group of 19 animals already travelled 30 kilometres from the pen and they are all together, in an area with green vegetation and water. They seem alert, healthy, calm and well adjusted, acclimatised to their new surroundings.
"In July, EAD, SCF, SCBI and Zoological Society of London teams fitted the Scimitar-horned Oryx with GPS collars. Twice a day the team receives the position of every animal collared. Based on these coordinates, field staff can monitor the population," she explained.
"Overall, the data will tell scientists where they go seasonally, how far they travel, whether they stay together or disperse into different social groups, and even if a poacher has taken an animal," added Dr. Dhaheri. 

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