GRETH, A. & SCHWEDE, G. (1993)

The reintroduction programme for the Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx in Saudi Arabia.

Int. Zoo Yb. 32: 73-80.


The Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx has become a symbol of the recovery through ex situ conservation measures of a species once extinct in the wild. Formerly ranging over most of the Arabian Peninsula and as far north as Israel and Syria (Tristram, 1884; Stewart, 1963), the Arabian oryx became extinct in the wild in 1972 (Henderson, 1974). ‘Operation Oryx’, organized by the Fauna and Flora Preser- vation Society, was responsible for the capture of three wild specimens in 1962 and, with gifts from the London Zoo, the Emir of Kuwait and the King of Saudi Arabia, a founder herd of nine animals was created and kept at the Phoenix Zoological Garden (Grimwood, 1988). The establishment of the ‘World Herd’ and a studbook, and the development of a co-operative programme between several zoological institutions all over the world have permitted the successful propagation of the species in captivity (Dolan, 1989). The world captive population now reaches 2000 individuals. Reintroduction as the ultimate goal of captive-breeding programmes for endan- gered species has become an important tool in conservation. In 1982, the first Arabian oryx were released into the wild in the central desert region of Oman (Stanley Price, 1989). The pilot project has proved to be highly successful, both from a biological point of view, with a wild herd of 112 individuals at the end of 1990 (Spalton, 1992, see also this volume), and from a sociological point of view, with the support of the local bedouin communities. Another project has started in Jordan in a fenced reserve (Abu Jafar & Hays-Shahin, 1988) and reintroduction is also planned in Israel. In Saudi Arabia, the National Commis- sion for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) has engaged in ambitious reintroduction programmes of various native species, as part of a long- term strategy to restore the country’s bio- diversity. Today, more than 20 years after its extermination in the wild, the Arabian oryx has started to make a successful comeback. In 1986 a captive-breeding programme was established at the National Wildlife Research Center in Taif (Abu-Zinada et al., 1988).



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