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Arabian oryx description

Kingdom Animalia

Phylum Chordata

Class Mammalia

Order Cetartiodactyla

Family Bovidae

Genus Oryx (1)

At one time extinct in the wild, this desert antelope can once again be seen wandering the dry
Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian oryx is an antelope that is highly specialised for its harsh desert
environment (5). The bright white coat reflects the sun’s rays (2) and the hooves are splayed and
shovel-like, providing a large surface area with which to walk on the sandy ground (5). The legs
are brown in colour, with white bands on the ankles, and there are also brown markings on the
face, on the bridge of the nose, the cheeks and a triangular patch on the forehead (2). Arabian
oryx of both sexes have magnificent straight, ringed horns that can reach up to 68 centimetres in
length (2); those of the female are thinner and longer than the male (6). Males have a tuft of hair
on the throat, and the tails of both sexes are tufted at the ends (6) and dark brown/black on the
lower half (2). Arabian oryx calves are brown with markings on their tail and knees (6), gaining
adult markings by six months (7).

how do they survive in harsh climate

Arabian oryx

It is strange to think of a large mammal capable of living in intensely hot desert conditions, but
the Arabian oryx shows us how successful they can be. This herbivore has a white coat to reflect
the sunlight of the day, while its dark legs help absorb heat during cold desert mornings. It can
sense rain over long distances and so can find fresh grasses and plants, and will even eat roots
when no other forage is available. It feeds during dawn and late afternoon, resting in shaded
areas during the mid-day heat. As for water, the Arabian oryx can go for days, and sometimes
even weeks without a significant drink, finding enough water by drinking dew that has formed
on the plants it eats or from the water content of plants themselves.
Suitable habitat

Arabian oryx prefer to range in gravel desert or hard sand, where their speed
and endurance will protect them from most predators, as well as most hunters on
foot. In the sand deserts in Saudi Arabia, they used to be found in the hard sand
areas of the flats between the softer dunes and ridges.


Threats: Human hunting exterminated the Arabian oryx in the wild, wiping it out over its
formerly extensive Middle Eastern range. Only captive breeding succeeded in preserving the
species. Today, reintroduced populations are increasing, though oil prospecting in some
areas has wiped out or driven away the animals. The population is still fragile due to high
mortality in the harsh environment, with everything from snakebite to dehydration killing
many animals.

Operation Oryx[edit]
Operation Oryx was a program of the Phoenix Zoo and the Fauna and Flora Preservation
Society of London (now Fauna and Flora International), with financial help from the World
Wide Fund for Nature. One of the first captive breeding programs at any zoo, this program
had the specific goal of saving and then reintroducing Arabian oryx in the wild. [8][9]
The initial plan of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society was to establish a herd
in Kenya where another species of oryx already lived and flourished. The Kenyan plan was
dropped because of an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease, and the oryx destined for
Kenya were shipped to the Phoenix Zoo instead.[2]
There were originally four individuals captured and seven donated for this project. The four
were captured in Aden (now Yemen) near the border of Oman by an expedition led by the
late Major Ian Grimwood, then chief game warden of Kenya, with help from Manahil and
Mahra tribesmen. One male from this group later died of capture stress. [10] The seven
donated oryx were: one from the London Zoo, two from Sheikh Jaber Abdullah al-Sabah, and
two pairs from the collection of King Saud bin Abdul Aziz. One of the oryx from Sheikh Jaber
Abdullah al-Sabah died before delivery as well, leaving nine oryx to start the "World Herd."
Five Arabian oryx were delivered to the Phoenix Zoo in 1963 (four in June and one in
September). A baby was born to the herd in October 1963 from a conception en route, and
another was born in the spring of 1964, bringing the starting population of the Phoenix Zoo
herd to seven. The four oryx donated by King Saud arrived at the Phoenix Zoo in July 1964,
bringing the population of the "World Herd" to 11. [11]
The breeding program at the Phoenix Zoo was very successful, and the zoo celebrated its
225th Arabian oryx birth in 2002. From Phoenix, individuals were sent to other zoos and
parks (including the San Diego Wild Animal Park) to start their herds. Most of the
Arabian oryx in the wild today have ancestors from the Phoenix Zoo.

Role of Sheikh Zayed

Sheikh Zayed efforts to conserve Arabian oryx

The Desert, with its living resources, was given a special interest and care by the late
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Sheikh Zayed considered the desert, with all of its
animal and plants a blessing from Allah that we should protect and use sustainably.
Sheikh Zayed said: “Cooperation between human beings leads to compassion, which
Allah has dedicated. Man has to compassionate towards his human brother, animals
and plants. All will be compassionate towards the compassionate”. He also sought to
protect and develop the various living resources in the UAE’s desert in order that they
might live in harmony with urban and human development. In addition, he established
many protected areas and issued environmental laws and regulations to ensure the
sustainability of this natural wealth.

Protecting endangered species came at the top of the list of priorities for Sheikh
Zayed. He looked at this issue not only from an environmental perspective but also
because such species are part and parcel of the national identity of the UAE. He said
on this matter that: “the environment is a dear part of our heritage, civilization and
future. Moreover it represents a great emotional value of our consciousness so we took
great care to exert every effort to protect it and protect our wealth”.

The Arabian Oryx was on the verge of extinction. He realised that such species will
face many dangers as a result of rapid urban development and the use of modern
technologies, as well as from non-sustainable human practices. “We contributed to the
protection of antelope from extinction. When we planted millions of trees and spread
the greenery throughout our country, we provided a suitable environment to the birds
and animals that used to live here for thousands of years and for millions of immigrant
birds. In spite of all what have been achieved, still there is much to be done”.

Sheikh Zayed ordered the establishment of a captive breeding programme for the
endangered Arabian Oryx in Al Ain, 1968. In 1978 four heads of Arabian Oryx (2 males
and 2 females) were transferred from Al Ain to Sir Bani Yas Island. This was the real
beginning of the breeding programme on this island, and afterwards many successes
were achieved. The number of Arabian Oryx rose to 311 in February 1999 and by the
end of 2011 the island hosted 450 Arabian Oryx. Sheikh Zayed’s programme led to
Arabian Oryx release programmes inside and outside the UAE.

Thanks to Sheikh Zayed’s environmental vision that made the UAE a leading state in
the region in protecting the Arabian Oryx. The year 2006 witnessed another
achievement for the UAE, the first herd of Arabian Oryx was released in the Arabian
Oryx Sanctuary in Umm Az Zumul, Abu Dhabi. The UAE now hosts the largest number of
Arabian Oryx in the world with around 4,000 animals. The efforts of the UAE extend to
cooperate with Arabian Oryx range states in the region to enhance the release
programmes in these states.

Sheikh Zayed’s interest and care about the desert and its wildlife, especially the
Arabian Oryx, were reflected in his speeches and poetry.

May Allah rest his soul in Peace

Conservation sites

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