Arabian oryx population surges at Abu Dhabi nature reserve as conservation efforts pay off

The species was hunted almost to extinction in the early 1970s but hundreds now thrive in Al Dhafra

The number of Arabian oryx in the UAE's largest nature reserve increased by more than a fifth in less than four years, a new study revealed.

Environment Agency Abu Dhabi carried out an aerial survey of the 6,000-square-kilometre Al Dhafra reserve to assess the success of ongoing conservation efforts.

The desert antelope had been hunted to verge of extinction in the 1970s.

Now, more than 10,000 of the animals can be found in the Emirates – about half of which are in Abu Dhabi.

The oryx population in the Al Dhafra reserve now stands at 946, a 22 per cent increase on four years ago.

Al Dhafra was home to just 160 of the animals in 2007, when the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme was established.

Efforts to bolster numbers date back much further, however, and are a lasting legacy to the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father.

"Arabian oryx is an iconic species of the desert landscape and a symbol of our cultural heritage, and was almost hunted to extinction in the wild in the early 1970s and only survived in captivity," said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, secretary general of the EAD.

“Thanks to extensive captive breeding of the species undertaken by the late Sheikh Zayed, the species was saved.

"This project has become an example to be followed across the world and represents great success for protection and captive-breeding programmes,” she said.

Survey helps breed confidence in conservation programme

In the latest survey, 83 calves were recorded, accounting for almost 9 per cent of the herd.

More than three quarters of the desert-dwelling antelope were found to be female, a healthy number for the herd to continue to grow.

The specialist team from EAD also counted sand gazelles and other species, as part of the agency's commitment to preserving biodiversity in Abu Dhabi.

Based on the survey, the researchers made a series of recommendations, including creating zones in the protected area in proportion to the distribution of the Arabian oryx herds.

Periodic veterinary surveillance was also recommended, in line with international standards for the reintroduction programmes.

In pictures: endangered species in the UAE 

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