The Arabian Oryx

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March 10, 2017 by Species Ecology

The Arabian Oryx

Nour Habjoka

The Arabian Oryx is a success story in the history of wildlife conservation, one that deserves to be told. This species has traveled from a status of “extinct in the wild” to “vulnerable”, three full extinction risk categories, a first according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN).Thanks to conservation efforts, the Arabian Oryx has made a comeback to the wild.

The Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx), the smallest of four species belonging to the genus Oryx. It is native to the desert regions of the Arabian peninsula, namely Egypt (Sinai), Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen. Uncontrolled poaching has led to its extinction in the wild, and the last wild Arabian Oryx was believed to have been hunted in Oman in 1972.

These antelopes are known in the Arab world as Al-Maha, and are culturally synonymous with beauty and grace. For the longest time, these animals have been the object and focus of many verses of poetry of love-struck poets. Their grace and striking appearance has inspired many famous poets like the notable Abbasid poet, Abū aṭ-Ṭayyib al-Mutanabbī(915 – 965 AD) who praised his loved ones’ eyes by comparing them to those of Al-Maha:

The Arabian Oryx had existed naturally in large numbers in the wild, and bedouins used to hunt them as a source of good and for their hide. The advent of modern technology and the development of weapons and hunting equipment, poaching has overtaken the ability of this beautiful animal to reproduce and its numbers dropped until its extinction. Alongside poaching, many animals were trapped and sold for display, i.e. to display them stuffed, or display their horns, locally and all over the world.

Adaptation to a harsh environment

Apart from its distinctive looks and particular markings, the Arabian oryx is an example of great ability to survive the harsh desert environment. For instance, their wide hooves enable them of walking across shifting sand. Also, they are able to find water that is miles away thanks to their acute sense of smell. It has also been said that the black markings on their faces act like sunglasses and protecting their eyes from the bright sunlight.

History of conservation

After having been extinct in its original habitat, efforts were made to conserve and re-introduce the species back into the wild. One might wonder, if the wild populations had extinct, then where did the reintroduced animals come from? Private collections played a major role in saving this species, and were utilized for breeding and reintrocuing fresh stock into the wild. The first Maha were introduced in Oman in 1982. More re-introduction followed in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and very recently in Jordan. Re-introductions were later on proposed for Kuwait, Iraq, and Syria. Arabian Oryx populations are estimated at about 1,100 individuals in the wild and 6,000-7,000 individuals are kept worldwide in zoos, preserves, and private collections.

The UAE’s Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi is a regional pioneer in the domain of the Arabian Oryx conservation. It established with a wildlife reserve for the the species in Dubai (Al-Maha Resort) and Abu Dhabi. The agency is also championing regional re-introduction efforts of the Arabian Oryx, such as those in Jordan.

Concluding words

Tremendous efforts have been made towards the conservation of the Arabian Oryx, rendering it an example that brings hope for other species in the future. The danger that faces animals in the wild can never be eliminated and the populations require regular monitoring and follow up. To conserve the populations of antelope in the wild, it is vital that the different efforts are concerted and sustainable. Among the recommendations that were mentioned in the Antelopes


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