“It comes as a major relief and is the result of a successful conservation programme followed by Oman and other Arabian countries,” said Saleh al Maht-houri, senior wildlife biologist, Diwan of Royal Court, who has been working with the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary for several years.
According to IUCN reports, the last herd of Arabian oryx in central Oman was wiped out in 1972 as a result of indiscriminate hunting, with only a few left in captivity. Following the wipe-out, Oman led an unprecedented conservation programme in 1976, helped by San Diego and Phoenix zoos in the US. At least 20 animals, that were brought up in San Diego Zoo, were rehabilitated in Oman between 1980 and 1989.
The IUCN report also stated that there are 50 wild Arabian oryx in Oman. “The current population of 50 animals in the wild is without females, so there is no possibility of further breeding. This is one of the factors of the decline. But our captive breeding at the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary has shown good results. The number has grown to approximately 380,” said Mahthouri.
He said that the sanctuary has a ceiling limit of 500 after which female oryx will be let out in the wild. “We are very close to reaching 400, which was the actual figure at the height of the conservation project in the 1990s. Once we reach the 500 mark, we will introduce female oryx in the wild and work towards our original goal of having a healthy population in the natural habitat.”
According to Mahthouri, this would be done gradually to minimise pressure on the sparse grazing grounds. Daniel Aldo Gomez, an Argentine biologist, specialist in ecology and nature protected areas and an environmental photographer, who worked briefly at the sanctuary said in an e-mail to Muscat Daily, “I can say that the future of the Arabian oryx is uncertain and all protection measures (local, national and international) are needed to save the species from total extinction in the wild.
“When I was visiting the sanctuary, the herd had to be monitored closely by rangers who had to camp and spend the night near the oryx to detect poaching and live capture. I think the best allies of the oryx should be the tribes and people living around the sanctuary. They need to be aware of their key role in the future of this iconic Omani species,” Gomez said.