Scimitar-horned Oryx

Scimitar-horned Oryx

Oryx dammah

Scimitar-horned oryx is a culturally and ecologically significant species in North Africa and Arabia. This desert antelope was driven to extinction in the 1980s by hunting and competition with domestic livestock. Now, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, Sahara Conservation Fund, and Chadian government – aided by partners including the Zoological Society of London, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and others – have reintroduced nearly 150 individuals from captivity back to their native habitat in Chad.

Facts

Height: 1.4m tall at the shoulder (4.6ft)

Weight: 100-210kg (220-460 lbs)

Scimitar-horned oryx can tolerate an internal body temperature of 47 C (116 F) and can go long periods (months) without drinking water.

Conservation Status: Extinct in the Wild

Tracking

The scimitar-horned oryx has existed only in captivity for the past 30 years. Driven to extinction by over-hunting and scarce resources, the species was bred in captivity for decades and closely monitored to promote genetic diversity and health. In 2012, a partnership of international agencies and organizations, including the Environmental Agency- Abu Dhabi, the Sahara Conservation Fund, the Chadian government, the Zoological Society of London, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, began working to reintroduce this species into its former range.

In August 2016, 21 individuals were reintroduced into a large (~78,000 km²) protected area, the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Wildlife Reserve, in central in Chad. Subsequent releases in 2017 and 2018 have resulted in a wild population of roughly 100 adults and 60 calves and juveniles.

A major part of monitoring the success and survival of this species is tracking the individuals with GPS collars. Nearly every adult reintroduced to the reserve is fitted with a GPS/satellite collar in order to monitor their seasonal movement patterns, social dynamics, and resource utilization.

As with collaring any animal, there are limitations to this method of tracking. Collars remain on the animals for approximately two years, and include a “drop off” feature that allows the collars to be remotely removed from any animal at any time. Movement of Life scientists are working with GPS tracking manufacturers to develop a solar-powered, horn-mounted GPS tag that would be fit on an oryx as young as one year old. This tag would be minimally invasive, expanding the data collection potential for each individual and leading to a greater understanding of the basic needs and habits of these individuals, as well as informing management practices during future releases. Projected implementation of this new method is 2019.

The collaboration with multiple international institutions offers a ray of hope of what can be done to restore this species to its historic habitat range. We look forward to learning from individuals released in Chad and with working with partners on the ground to make lasting impact to conservation on the ground.

Meet the Team

Peter Leimgruber, Ph.D.

Center Head, Conservation Biologist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
Conservation Ecology Center
National Zoological Park

Katherine Mertes, Ph.D.

Conservation Biologist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
Conservation Ecology Center

Melissa Songer, Ph.D.

Conservation Biologist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
Conservation Ecology Center

Jared Stabach, Ph.D.

Ecologist, MoL Program Coordinator
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
Conservation Ecology Center
National Zoological Park

Resources

Scholarly Articles

Woodfine, T. and Gilbert, T. (2016). The fall and rise of the scimitar-horned oryx: A case study of ex-situ conservation and reintroduction in practice. In: Antelope Conservation in the 21st Century: From Diagnosis to Action (Eds. J.BrøJorgensen and D.Mallon). Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

Iyengar, A., Gilbert, T., Woodfine, T., Knowles, J.M., Diniz, F.M., Brenneman, R.A., Louis Jr. E.E. and Maclean, N. (2007). Remnants of ancient genetic diversity preserved within captive groups of scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah). Molecular Ecology 16 (12): 2436-2449.

Woodfine, T., Gilbert, T. and Engel, H. (2005). A summary of past and present initiatives for the conservation and reintroduction of addax and scimitar-horned oryx in North Africa: 208 – 211. In: B.Hiddinga (Ed.) Proceedings of the EAZA conference 2004, Kolmarden. EAZA Executive Office, Amsterdam.

Newby, J.E. (1988). Aridland wildlife in decline: the case of the scimitar-horned oryx. In: Conservation and biology of desert antelope (A. Dixon & D. Jones, Eds.). Zoological Society of London.

Newby, J.E. (1978a). Scimitar-horned oryx – the end of the line? Oryx 14 (3): 219–221.

Newby, J.E. (1978b). The scimitar-horned oryx – extinction or reprieve? Marwell Zoo Paper 24: 18 - 19.

Newby, J.E. (1974). The ecological resources of the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim faunal reserve. Report to the food and agriculture organisation of the United Nations, FAO.

Collaborators