Arabian Oryx Released to Wild after 40 Years of Extinction in UAE Dessert
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Nearly 100 Arabian oryxes have been released into the desert of the United Arab Emirates in an attempt to reintroduce the creature to its natural habitat after 40 years of extinction in the Persian Gulf country.
The Arabian oryx is a large and graceful white antelope with antennae-like horns that was officially declared extinct from the wild in 1972 due to hunting and habitat destruction.
The plan is to release about 100 captive-bred oryxes into remote desert areas in the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi every year until 2012 for a total of 500. Ninety-eight have been set free this year, Abu Dhabi's environment agency announced Sunday.
"Our terrestrial environment research center has been releasing these oryxes in hopes to create a self-sustaining population that roams freely in our deserts," Majid al-Mansouri, secretary general of the agency said in a statement.
The agency is in the process of having the nearly 4,000 square-mile habitat classified as a protected area. Desert rangers will patrol the area, the agency said.
Shelters and feeding centers are helping oryxes adapt to their new environment. These will gradually be removed as the animal learns to survive independently.
Of the five species of oryx in the wild, the Arabian oryx is the only one that inhabited the Middle East. The other four species are found in Africa. The Arabian oryx's traditional range once extended into the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Israel.
The federal government arranged a program of captive breeding just before the species disappeared from the peninsula.
There are approximately 4,000 of these animals living in captivity in the Emirates, and another 2,000 in other parts of the Middle East.
Similar reintroduction projects have taken place in neighboring Oman and Saudi Arabia.
The Arabian oryx's long thin horns can reach three feet and it can live up to 19 years. It lives on grasses and shrubs, and gets enough water from the morning dew on desert plants.
Source: Associated Press