Written by Carole French
The Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) is an elegant white antelope with an appealingly mournful expression and dramatic, long, straight horns. It is indigenous to the desert and steppes of the Arabian Peninsula. It became extinct in Jordan in the 1920s, and was almost lost to the world in the 1970s when the last oryx in the wild was killed by hunters in Oman. Fortunately, in a project entitled ‘Operation Oryx’ organised by the Flora and Fauna Preservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund around ten years previously, a small protected herd of just nine animals was established in the US. One oryx came from London Zoo, four from Saudi Arabia, three from Oman and one from Kuwait. The project was a tremendous success as the animals thrived and the herd grew in size.
In 1978, four oryx were relocated to the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve and continued to thrive in the reserve’s protected environment. In 1983, a total of 31 were released from captivity, where they had been bred and cared for, into specially prepared natural habitats within the reserve. At the time it was a major milestone in the reserve’s success. There are now over 200 of these beautiful creatures in Jordan, a staggering number given that they were once almost extinct. Some were released back into the wilds of the Wadi Rum Protected Area. The oryx is still one of the most vulnerable species in the world, and Jordan, like the US before it, now supplies oryx to other countries keen to host their own reintroduction programmes.