Extinction has always happened, but in the past, it was typically due to environmental disasters or catastrophic events. However, most extinction events in the past few hundred years has been caused by human interference. A test project provides some hope that humans will not irreversibly harm animal populations. A once extinct type of antelope has been reintroduced into its native habitat in Africa.
Scientists Release Antelopes in Sahara, Back Into the Wild
The scimitar-horned oryx was once one of the most widespread antelopes in Sahara, Africa. The ancient Egyptians captured and tamed them, and they flourished throughout most of northern Africa. Its distinctive horns curve sharply upwards, and they can be almost four feet in length. Unfortunately, scimitar oryx populations started declining due to the increased area of the Sahara desert.
The diminished populations were then hunted almost to extinction by the late 1800s. Since the 1980s, scimitar oryx have been entirely extinct in the wild. Only a few survived at zoos in the United States, Europe, and United Arab Emirates. These oryxes were carefully bred until almost 4,000 survived in private zoos and parks, but actually releasing them into the wild is much more difficult.
Animals raised in captivity often have trouble fending for themselves in the wild, so scientists had to gradually acclimate the antelopes to their native habitat again. The oryx first lived in fenced in areas of conserved land. In late 2016, the first 23 oryx were allowed to go back into the wild again.
They were tracked with GPS collars, and project member Jared Stabach is happy to report that “so far, the animals look exceptionally healthy.” The oryx are currently living in a nature reserve in central Chad. The area has locals who want to protect the antelopes and few natural predators of the scimitar-horned oryx, so they will not face any immediate threats.
Scimitar-Horned Oryx Proves That Population Recovery Is Possible
The release program was a joint effort from multiple scientific organizations, and the team members worked long and hard to bring the scimitar oryx back home. They had to coordinate a breeding program to avoid too much interbreeding among captive oryx, and even after release, a lot of monitoring will be necessary.
We can’t say, ‘we’ve got these animals back into Chad and we’re done.’ It’s a continuum. We’re 10 steps down the road that’s 30 steps long. Conservation is hard.
Only 23 animals have been released so far, but scientists hope to reach a goal of 500 oryx being released into the wild. It is hoped that restoring the species who used to live in Chad will help to balance the local ecosystem. The oryx will live peacefully alongside the endangered dama gazelle and dorcas gazelle in the area, and they can outrun the hyena that hunt in the area.
As they graze, the oryx will remove old, tough growth so that new leaves and grasses can grow again. If this project is successful, it will prove that it is possible to restore animal species to lands that have been over hunted.
The Future Looks Bright for the Oryx
The survival of the scimitar-horned oryx will depend on a few different factors. It will be necessary to create effective regulations that prevent overhunting and habitat destruction. Fortunately, things are looking bright for the antelopes in Sahara, because they are easily adapting to living in the wild again. There is less of a demand for the horns of the oryx in modern times, so it will hopefully avoid being hunted into extinction again.