Group of Arabian Oryx released in Abu Dhabi reserve as 50-year project delivers results

The UAE has been at the heart of efforts to save the desert antelope from possible extinction

The UAE has been leading efforts to bolster numbers of Arabian Oryx for decades. AFP
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A new batch of Arabian Oryx have been released into a protected area of Abu Dhabi, marking the latest success in a 50-year mission to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

The group are the first of 100 of the desert antelope which are to be settled at the Houbara Protected Area by the end of the year.

The Houbara Protected Area, a sprawling reserve extending 774 square metres in Baynunah, was set up in 2008 with the main objective of safeguarding natural habitats suitable for the breeding of the Houbara bustard.

The vast area is also playing a key role in protecting other treasured species such as the Arabian Oryx, the national animal of the Emirates.

This emphasises our efforts to reintroduce the Arabian Oryx, a project that was launched in Al Ain City back in 1968

The conservation scheme is being overseen by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi as part of the Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme established in 2007.

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

"The Emirate is committed to preserving wildlife and endangered species, and the release of these majestic animals into the wild constitutes a moment of pride for us," said Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region and chairman of the board of directors of the agency.

"This emphasises our efforts to reintroduce the Arabian Oryx, a project that was launched in Al Ain City back in 1968.

"The late Sheikh Zayed issued his directives to establish programmes to protect the Arabian Oryx, such as breeding and protecting the wild animals from extinction, while reintroducing them back into their natural habitat.

A breeding programme run by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi helped bring Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction. Courtesy: EAD

"Following this, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, launched a similar programme in 2007, which is part of the Abu Dhabi government's vision to create a regional herd that reflects all programmes for the resettlement of the Arabian Oryx in their range countries."

Sheikh Hamdan said the long-term project has allayed fears the Arabian Oryx could be wiped out completely.

"During the past few years, the UAE, specifically the Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, has played a pivotal role in protecting the Arabian Oryx, preserving it from extinction and enhancing its numbers in the wild,' he said.

"This has resulted in changing its status in 2011, in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable to extinction'.

"This is considered as one of the most important achievements in the field of the reintroduction of species on a global level."

Dr Sheikha Salem Al Dhaheri, secretary-General of EAD said, numbers of the species have swelled to 10,000 across the country.

"The Arabian Oryx was released in the Arabian Oryx Protected Area and today, more than 800 heads live freely within the reserve's borders," she said.

"In addition, groups of Arabian Oryx were also released in Qasr Al Sarab Protected Area.

"Concurrently, it has increased the numbers in the UAE, with the country hosting more than 10,000 Arabian Oryx, 5,000 of which, can be found in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi alone, which is the largest group of Arabian Oryx in the world."

The programme extends to Oman and Jordan, where hundreds of Arabian Oryx were released within their natural and historical range countries.