By Dr. Becker
Have you ever heard of an Arabian oryx? This endangered white antelope has a striking appearance with black markings on its face and legs and two long straight horns.
When viewed from the side, the Arabian oryx appears to have just one horn, and it’s believed that this started the legend of the unicorn. Arabian oryx are a hearty group, able to live for weeks without water (and detect it from miles away).1
After extensive habitat loss and targeting by hunters for their meat, hides and horns, Arabian oryx were declared extinct in the wild in 1972. Conservation efforts have allowed the animals to thrive in captivity, and they have since been reintroduced in Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Today there are an estimated 1,000 Arabian oryx roaming wild in the Middle East, along with another 7,000 that live in protected parks, wildlife reserves and zoos. Its numbers are still fragile, however. As reported by the Khaleej Times:2
“Oman was the first country to reintroduce the Arabian oryx back into its natural habitat, which is gravel desert, as early as 1982. To start with, Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was doing very well, reaching nearly 500 specimens.
From 2007, though, as a result of Oman’s opening the sanctuary to oil exploration and also due to illegal live capture, from nearly 500, less than 50 Arabian oryx are counted in Oman today.”
Arabian Oryx Born at Miami Zoo
Any new birth of the still endangered Arabian Oryx is cause for celebration. One such birth occurred in April 2015 at Zoo Miami, with both visitors and staff able to witness the rare event. A newborn calf is able to walk just one hour after being born. According to the zoo:3
“The Arabian Oryx is an antelope that is highly specialized for the harsh desert environment. During the driest seasons, they get most of their water from the desert plants they eat. Also, they can turn their storied body fat into metabolic water to hydrate themselves.
They are found in herds of 5 to 30 individuals. However, there are some males that break apart from the herd and live a solitary life. The herd is always in constant communication through the use of body posture, snorts, grunts and bleats.
The oryx herd members tend to stay in close proximity to each other and will always maintain constant visual contact with the rest of the herd members. Both the female and male oryx have long horns that they use to establish hierarchy.”
A Conservation Success
At the fifth meeting of members of the Coordination Committee for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx (CCCAO), the animal’s comeback was praised as a conservation success.
Dr. Shaikha Al Daheri, executive director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) called the captive Arabian oryx breeding programs, and subsequent reintroduction into the wild, a “miracle.” The Arabian oryx was, quite literally, brought back from the verge of extinction. She said:4
“We achieved an outstanding success in 2011 when IUCN [the International Union for Conservation of Nature] reclassified the Arabian oryx as ‘Vulnerable’ after it had been listed as Extinct in the Wild.”
Below, you can watch a short documentary chronicling EAD’s work to preserve the Arabian Oryx.