Arabian Oryx: Threats and Conservation Efforts

July 28, 2021Lu Shegay


The Arabian oryx is a species of antelope native to the Arabian Peninsula. By the early 1970s, this species has become extinct in the wild but was saved in zoos and private reserves, and reintroduced into the wild a decade later. The Arabian Oryx has been classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List first in 1986, and among all animals has been the first whose status has become Vulnerable after previously being recognized as extinct in the wild. According to the last assessment by the IUCN Red List, their population is stable and is around 850 mature individuals.

"Arabian oryx (oryx leucoryx)" by Charlesjsharp is licensed under CC BY 2.0


The Arabian oryx is considered the national animal of Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar. However, they face many threats from human activities and they become vulnerable due to inhabiting a particular part of the world. One of the greatest threats to these animals is the climate crisis. But the reason for them becoming extinct was mainly hunting for their meat, hides, and horns. Overgrazing and droughts also threaten the Arabian oryx. Because these animals are dependent on temperature, any changes in climate can impact their living conditions and the population.

The climate change issue that affects not only animals and the environment but also us, humans, shall be taken into account more seriously. Unfortunately, there are still people and regions across the globe where these concerns are not properly considered. Serious changes in climate may lead to a fatal outcome for the planet. Climate change leaves unbearable and horrifying consequences, such as wildfires, ice storms, droughts, under which all animals, including human and nonhuman animals, suffer. Many antelope species are more susceptible to such extreme weather conditions as droughts that dramatically impact and decrease their population. And since it is impossible to control the weather, there is a possibility not to contribute to climate change by eliminating animal agriculture that remains the major reason for the climate crisis.

Hunting is another issue that is present in almost all countries around the world that cannot be properly monitored and regulated. Those countries with rural areas where people have no access to other food than hunting wild animals are ignoring the issue of the lack of proper management both among the public and the government. Having the law or provisions in the law is not sufficient to prevent hunting and the decrease of the population of animals, enforcement shall be present too together with the proper management, monitoring, and prosecution.

"Arabian Oryx" by shankar s. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Conservation Efforts

Currently, animal protection organizations, conservation groups, zoos, and private institutions, are working on saving this species from going extinct in the wild again. In 1999, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated that the Arabian oryx may go extinct in the wild in Oman after their reintroduction into the wild. During 1996-1999, the population of the Arabian oryx in the wild in Oman has fallen from 400 to 100. According to the data, approximately 200 oryx have been poached. Capturing Arabian oryx is common in Oman as they put these animals for sale in private zoos outside the country. Mostly female oryx and their calves are targeted, and many of them die from stress and exhaustion during the capture, others may die during transportation.

According to David Mallon, the co-chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Antelope Specialist Group, approximately 40 years or so ago, “the Arabian oryx was extinct in the wild formally, which meant there were none of these animals left in the wild, just those in captivity or in private collections.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t really have very much detailed information on the past. We’ve just got plenty of anecdotal reports of oryx around, and as far as we know the species was very widespread across the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. In the north, it went as far as Iraq and Kuwait, Syria in the northwest, and then Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE in the south.”

“But as soon as motor vehicles and modern weapons arrived, the destructive potential of hunting rapidly increased. Before, if you were on a camel and you had a single shot, by the time you had another bullet in the gun the oryx would’ve runoff. But when motor vehicles and more modern, reloadable rifles were introduced — you can wear oryx out through exhaustion — hunting became a lot easier.”

Reintroducing the Arabian oryx into the wild started with captive breeding in zoos, which first took place in 1962 at the Phoenix Zoo. They started with 9 animals first and the result showed 240 successful births. After that, the Phoenix Zoo sent animals to other zoos and parks to continue the process. Later on, in 1968, the United Arab Emirates, in particular, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, expressed concerns about saving the species of the Arabian oryx, and he founded the Al Ain Zoo for conservation purposes.

The efforts of private and public institutions led to the increase of the number of these animals in captivity by 1980, so after such results, reintroduction of Arabian oryx into the wild has taken place, and the first release to Oman was done from the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

In 2016, the IUCN assessed the population of Arabian oryx as 1200 individuals, approximately 6000-7000 of which were held in captivity around the world. Some were kept free-roaming, including in Syria, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. In 2007, Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was the first place in the world that has been removed from the UNESCO World Heritage List because of the decision of the government to open about 90% of the site to oil development. The population of Arabian oryx in that place has been reduced from 450 in 1996 to 65 individuals in 2007.

The Arabian oryx is now protected by law in the resident countries and is also listed in Appendix I of CITES, which means that the trade of this species and their body parts is prohibited unless there are exceptional circumstances.

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