The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has lauded Qatar’s efforts to save the Arabian Oryx from extinction.
“Qatar’s captive breeding programme is very successful,” IUCN’s Species Survival Commission chair Dr Simon Stuart told Gulf Times yesterday after a visit to the Shahaniya Oryx Centre.
The Arabian Oryx was hunted heavily in the 20th century, resulting in it being classified as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The antelope, native to the desert and steppe areas of the Arabian Peninsula, is also placed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) because of concerns relating to international trade.
Well-managed breeding and re-introduction efforts are improving the status of the Arabian Oryx and have led to the species becoming eligible to be down-listed to ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List in 2011.
As of 2008, the animal’s world population was estimated to be about 1,100 in the wild and 6,000-7,000 in captivity, zoos, reserves and private collections.
“In Qatar, we have more than 1,300 Arabian Oryx,” the Ministry of Environment’s wildlife and protected area consultant, Ghanim Abdulla Mohamed, explained.
In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the species had become near-extinct due to severe hunting with the availability of guns and 4WD vehicles.
“But, Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, uncle of HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first man in the region to capture few animals from the Empty Quarter enduring extreme hardships and bring them to Qatar, thus launching Operation Oryx,” Mohamed recalled.
At more than 583,000sq km the Empty Quarter takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the UAE to create an arid wilderness larger than France.
“A group of British scientists took few Arabian Oryx from Qatar to London in the early ‘60s and then to Phoenix, Arizona, US, where their numbers increased on account of good protection and management,” the official said.
Saudi Arabia and Oman also have active breeding programmes and re-introduced Arabian Oryx into the wild. Qatar has given some animals to certain countries in the region, but is yet to re-introduce them into the wild.
“In Qatar we now keep the Arabian Oryx in three reserves – Shahaniya, Ushaijrij and Mazhabyah – after having lost a number of animals to foot and mouth disease several years ago,” Mohamed said.
Qatar is the first country in the Gulf to have a vaccination programme for the Oryx, he added. Dr Stuart stated that the Qatari stock of the animal is very important for the future of the Arabian Oryx.
IUCN arranged the visit to the Shahaniya Oryx Centre on the sidelines of the ongoing 15th Conference of the Parties of the Cites.
IUCN, the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to the most pressing environment and development challenges.
It supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world and brings governments, non-government organisations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement policy, laws and best practice.
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