The Arabian oryx, which had all but disappeared from the wild in the late 1950s and early 1960s, has successfully been reintroduced to its native habitat thanks to captive breeding programmes, such as one at the Shahaniya Oryx Centre on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar, where the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is taking place.
The Arabian oryx is currently Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ but it’s estimated that, if well-managed breeding programmes and re-introduction schemes continue, its status could be reduced to Vulnerable by 2011. It’s listed on Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade in species threatened with extinction.
The antelope, which has a white coat with distinctive black markings on the head, is native to the desert and steppe areas of the Arabian peninsula. Its range covered what’s known as the Empty Quarter, one of the largest sand deserts in the world, which includes parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Extensive hunting in the early part of the last century saw its numbers decimated and in 1972 the species became extinct in the wild.
However, successful captive breeding programmes have seen population numbers rise. Latest figures suggest that there are an estimated 1,100 Arabian oryx in the wild and between 6,000 and 7,000 animals held in captivity, in zoos, reserves and private collections. In Qatar, 1,300 Arabian oryx are kept in three reserves - Shahaniya, Ushaijrij and Mazhabyah. Some of the animals raised in Qatar have been reintroduced into the wild in the region, none, as yet, in Qatar itself. Saudi Arabia and Oman have similar captive breeding programmes and now have wild populations of Arabian oryx.
Dr. Simon Stuart, chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, says that he’s optimistic that the species will flourish.