Arabian Oryx Comes Back From the Brink

Almost 40 years ago, the last wild Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), a large, cream-colored antelope with striking black horns, met its end in the deserts of Oman—shot by a hunter. But this week, conservationists announced that the oryx, which may have led to the legend of the unicorn, has been successfully restored to its native habitat on the Arabian Peninsula. It's the first time scientists have achieved such a remarkable turn-around for a species once declared extinct in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has moved the oryx from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on the organization's latest red list of threatened species.

"Certainly, this is a milestone, and a wonderful success story for captive breeding and reintroduction programs," says Kris Hundertmark, a wildlife ecologist, and former member of the IUCN's Antelope Specialist Group, now at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. IUCN's categories are "based on measurable standards," he adds—meaning the oryx's new classification is the result of solid observations, not just a hunch.

Today, about 1000 wild oryx roam the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Jordan. The population is not connected, however, nor are there corridors yet to link the scattered herds, some of which number less than 40 animals.

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Tags: conservation, extinction, oryx, wildlife

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