How the Arabian oryx was brought back from extinction

How the Arabian oryx was brought back from extinction
There are now an estimated 1,220 wild oryx across the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
Updated 11 January 2019

How the Arabian oryx was brought back from extinction

How the Arabian oryx was brought back from extinction
  • The animal is close to moving from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘near-threatened,’ Arab News has learned, a major feat thanks to the efforts of Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • In the early 1970s, the antelope was considered all but vanished due to hunting and poaching

DUBAI: More than four decades ago, the Arabian oryx was extinct in the wild. But today, thanks to efforts spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, experts are citing the swell in its numbers as one of the world’s biggest conservation success stories.

In the early 1970s, the antelope was considered all but vanished due to hunting and poaching. 

Now it is not only back from the brink, but in 2011 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reclassified it to “vulnerable” from “endangered,” the first time a species that was once “extinct in the wild” improved in status by three full categories out of six on its Red List of Threatened Species. 

There are now an estimated 1,220 wild oryx across the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to between 6,000 and 7,000 in semi-captivity.

Experts at the IUCN have revealed to Arab News that the Arabian oryx could be upgraded to another level on its list within years, to “near-threatened,” thanks to regional breeding programs and reintroduction initiatives in the Kingdom, the UAE and the wider Gulf.

“About 40 years or so ago, the Arabian oryx was extinct in the wild formally, which meant there were none of these animals left in the wild, just those in captivity or in private collections,” said David Mallon, co-chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Antelope Specialist Group.

“Unfortunately, we don’t really have very much detailed information on the past. We’ve just got plenty of anecdotal reports of oryx around, and as far as we know the species was very widespread across the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. In the north it went as far as Iraq and Kuwait, Syria in the northwest and then Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE in the south,” he added.

“But as soon as motor vehicles and modern weapons arrived, the destructive potential of hunting rapidly increased. Before, if you were on a camel and you had a single shot, by the time you had another bullet in the gun the oryx would’ve run off. But when motor vehicles and more modern, reloadable rifles were introduced — you can wear oryx out through exhaustion — hunting became a lot easier.”

Their numbers rapidly declined, and by 1950 the northern population had disappeared. 

“This just left the southern population based around the Empty Quarter, southeast Saudi Arabia and the border of the UAE and Oman. Then by the 1960s, it went down and down and down,” Mallon said.

Operation Oryx, which included the World Wildlife Fund and Phoenix Zoo in the US, was set up to establish a herd in captivity to prepare to reintroduce them into the wild. 

“They caught a few of them from the southern population in Yemen on the border with Oman and took them back to London Zoo. Then there were a couple donated from the ruler of Saudi Arabia at the time, and they were taken to Phoenix Zoo in Arizona, which has a similar desert climate, and they built up this world herd,” Mallon said, adding that this provided hope for the desert animal. 

The first reintroduction of 10 animals was in 1982 at the Omani Central Desert and Coastal Hills in the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary. 

It was subsequently extended to Saudi Arabia at the Mahazat Al-Sayd Protected Area. 

Releases in this fenced area began in 1990. 

In 1995, a secondary release site was established in Uruq Bani Ma’arid in the southern part of the Kingdom. 

In 1997, said Mallon, oryx were released in three sites in northern Israel, and were introduced to the UAE a few years later in the oryx reserve in Abu Dhabi. 

Other sites have since been established, and reintroductions in “semi-captive” sites — vast fenced areas to protect them from poachers — have also been made in Jordan and Bahrain, while reintroductions in Kuwait, Iraq and Syria have been proposed, according to the IUCN.

Successful population growth and releases, in addition to the estimated millions of dollars being spent across the Gulf annually on conservation, have driven the population numbers to current levels. 

Mallon said it is a major feat to have brought the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction, and one that the IUCN hopes will be repeated for other threatened species.

“The Arabian oryx was ‘extinct’ on the Red List, then they became ‘critically endangered.’ Once the population increased they moved to ‘endangered,’ and then moved to a level where they could be called ‘vulnerable.’ It’s a really good conservation story. The next target they have to get to is ‘near-threatened,’ and that’s not far off,” he added.

The IUCN formally categorizes numbers of a species that are at reproductive age. 

“We only count the mature individuals, so we don’t count the young ones. We have about 1,220 now, including the young ones, and we’d say about 850 are mature,” Mallon said.

“For the oryx to move to the ‘near-threatened’ category, we’d need to get figures to about 1,400 of these animals, so about half as many again. Considering where we were and where we are now, this is an achievable feat.”

The main populations of the species today are in Saudi Arabia, where there are about 600 in the wild, and the UAE, where there are more than 400 by official numbers, although Mallon said there may be significantly more. 

Many more are in semi-captivity.

There are about 110 in the wild in Israel. 

Despite a promising start in Oman, few of the species remain in the country due to poaching. 

The IUCN estimates that there are just 10 left in the wild in Oman, with a couple of hundred more in semi-captivity. 

Mallon said there are few conservation stories as successful as the Arabian oryx, and it was the foresight of Saudi and Emirati rulers, and bodies that established large breeding sites across the Arab world, that have saved the animal from extinction.

Coordination between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — such as the General Secretariat for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx, which was established in 2001 as a landmark regional initiative aimed at coordinating and unifying conservation efforts in the Arabian Peninsula — has also helped.

“This helps to vary the genetics as much as possible, and ensures the longevity of the species,” said Mallon. 

“There has been a huge amount of genetic sampling of all the herds to establish which ones are the most diverse. They’re genetically well-managed, and the animals are very carefully looked after.”

Conservation of endangered animals is a growing trend in the Kingdom. In the study “Conservation in Saudi Arabia: Moving from Strategy to Practice,” published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences in 2018, authors noted that there are “marked conservation successes” in the Kingdom of not only the Arabian oryx, but two other endangered species: The sand gazelle and the Arabian gazelle. 

The report added that the Saudi Wildlife Authority, established in 1986, has introduced several measures, with more on the way, to deter poachers and other factors that negatively affect populations of endangered species.

But Mallon said challenges for the Arabian oryx remain: “What’s needed is to continue with the captive breeding efforts to continue breeding animals, to continue the existing reintroduction sites and maintaining regional efforts and collaboration across the Arabian Peninsula. This is vital to maximize genetic diversity and reduce the risk of inbreeding.”

He added: “A massive Arabia Peninsula-wide education program on not shooting and hunting, and confiscation of weapons and a massive license system, would also help.”

Mallon said: “Without conservation, these species probably wouldn’t survive. Yet the Arabian oryx is an important part of Arabian biodiversity. It’s the one animal that’s adapted to hyper-arid deserts.” 

He added: “It’s an exemplar to a species that has adapted to these conditions, which will be very useful in the future in terms of climate change. It also has its natural role, and serves as a flagship for the desert ecosystem, and also has huge cultural value. So it’s almost the duty of people to preserve it.”

Mallon said efforts thus far deserve worldwide commendation. 

“It has been a huge conservation success story of its time. At the time, it was an absolute flagship project. It was a real exemplar of what can be done,” he added. 

“A crucial part of conservation success stories is to have government support, funding and long-term commitment. That’s what we’ve seen in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the wider GCC.”


Bahrain crown prince discusses Middle East security with UK PM Johnson

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
Updated 55 min 8 sec ago

Bahrain crown prince discusses Middle East security with UK PM Johnson

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
  • The two leaders discussed the global effort against COVID-19 and deepening cooperation on green technology
  • Prince Salman also met with Prince Charles, conveying greetings from King Hamad to Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON: Bahrain and the UK vowed to boost economic and security cooperation as Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad held talks with the British prime minister on Thursday.
Prince Salman said relations with the UK continued to evolve toward more advanced and solid partnerships in various fields, based on their close history spanning decades, Bahrain News Agency reported.
“The bilateral partnership between the two countries are based on opening wider horizons for the development of solid relations at all levels, in a manner that reflects the aspirations of the two countries,” Prince Hamad said during his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street.
He praised Britain’s strategic and vital role in maintaining security and stability in the region, and developing cooperation in areas such as military, economic and trade.
“They reflected on the close and historic partnership between the UK and Bahrain and agreed to further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation,” Downing Street said in a statement, adding the two leaders discussed the global effort against COVID-19, support for international initiatives to combat the pandemic, including COVAX, and deepening cooperation on green technology and the transition to renewable energy.
“They also spoke about regional security issues and defense collaboration, and the prime minister commended the Bahraini government’s steps to normalize relations with Israel,” the statement added.
Prince Salman also met with Prince Charles, conveying greetings from King Hamad to Queen Elizabeth II.


Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains
Updated 17 June 2021

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

DUBAI: Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have come closer than ever to an agreement, but essential issues remain to be negotiated, the top Iranian negotiator said on Thursday.
The Islamic Republic and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for both sides to take. The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
“We achieved good, tangible progress on the different issues .... we are closer than ever to an agreement but there are still essential issues under negotiations,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as telling Al Jazeera television.
Araqchi said Iran’s presidential election on Friday would have no effect on the negotiations and the Iranian negotiating team will continue the talks regardless of domestic policy.
The sixth round of talks resumed on Saturday with the remaining parties to the deal — Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union — meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel.
The US delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
Since former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter-measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
“We want to make sure that what happened when Trump pulled out of the deal will not be repeated by any other American president in the future,” Araqchi told the pan-Arab satellite TV network.
Russia’s envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, added a note of caution, saying progress had been made in the last few days but talks were tough.
“Some difficult and time-consuming topics still remain unresolved,” he said.
France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday there were still significant disagreements.
Iran’s new president is expected to name his Cabinet by mid-August. Current President Hassan Rouhani’s term ends on Aug. 3, a government spokesman said.


Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
Updated 17 June 2021

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
  • The Gulf country in February banned entry of non-citizens to limit the spread of the virus
  • Foreign travellers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson

KUWAIT: Kuwait announced Thursday it would allow foreigners who have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to enter the country from August 1, after a months-long suspension.
The Gulf country in February banned the entry of non-citizens in a bid to limit the spread of the virus, but has started to ease some of its Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks.
Government spokesman Tareq Al-Mizrem said foreign travelers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of the four vaccines that the Gulf country has approved — Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Passengers must also hold a negative PCR test conducted a maximum of 72 hours before travel, and undergo another test during a seven-day quarantine in the country, Mizrem told a press conference.
Meanwhile, only Kuwaiti citizens who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to travel abroad from August 1, he said, although some exceptions would be made, such as for pregnant women.
Previously, Kuwaitis were required to have had at least one jab in order to travel.
Mizrem also announced that Kuwait would allow access to large shopping malls, gyms and restaurants from June 27 only for those who have been fully inoculated.
“The government has decided to allow those who have received a (full) Covid-19 vaccine... to enter restaurants and cafes, gyms, salons, shopping malls more than 6,000 square meters,” said Mizrem.
Kuwait has officially recorded more than 332,000 coronavirus cases, over 1,800 of them fatal.


US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking holds talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi capital, Riyadh. (Saba)
US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking holds talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi capital, Riyadh. (Saba)
Updated 52 min 11 sec ago

US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking holds talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi capital, Riyadh. (Saba)
  • Envoy Tim Lenderking condemns Houthis for civilian attacks, tells Yemen’s foreign minister that his government has Washington’s support
  • Saudi ambassador to Yemen held talks with UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths

RIYADH: The US envoy to Yemen has blamed the Houthi militia for failed efforts to bring peace to the country.
Tim Lenderking made the comments during a meeting on Thursday with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi Arabia, Saba news agency reported.
Lenderking is holding talks in the Kingdom as part of a US push to bring a nationwide cease-fire.
But the Biden administration appears increasingly frustrated by the Iran-backed Houthis and their refusal to engage with peace efforts.
During his meeting with Bin Mubarak, Lenderking repeated Washington’s position that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict.
He strongly condemned the continued Houthi attacks on civilians and said an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire was a basic necessity to alleviate human suffering.
He said the US continued to support the legitimate government and the unity, stability and security of Yemen.
Bin Mubarak said: “The Houthi militia’s refusal to agree a comprehensive cease-fire, reopen Sanaa airport, and guarantee the supply of oil derivatives revenues to pay employees’ salaries proves the false pretexts these militias claim and confirms their bargaining on the humanitarian side, in order to continue implementing Iran’s subversive agenda.”
He said the militia’s targeting of civilians and populated areas in Marib with ballistic missiles has not stopped, but rather increased in severity, which exacerbates the seriousness of the humanitarian situation, increases the number of civilian casualties and undermines international efforts to establish peace.”


Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death

Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death
Updated 17 June 2021

Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death

Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death
  • Yemeni minister Ahmed Arman: Houthis are using the judicial bodies in areas under their control to “settle scores” with their opponents and to confiscate their property
  • Yemeni rights groups voiced concerns about the Houthis’ escalating crackdown on dissidents at a time when mediators are pressing them to agree to a peace initiative

ALEXANDRIA: Yemeni government officials, human rights activists and journalists have condemned a Houthi-run court’s decision to sentence two Yemeni activists to death, accusing the rebels of using the judiciary in areas under their control to punish dissidents.

On Tuesday, a Houthi-run court ordered that Zafaran Zaid, a Yemeni human rights activist and lawyer, and her husband and fellow activist Fuad Al-Mansouri be executed by firing squad. The two were tried in absentia. 

Zaid, head of the Yemeni Women’s Empowerment Foundation (Tamkeen), has exposed a number of human rights abuses by the Houthis. Al-Mansouri is the head of the Development Media Association and an outspoken critic of the Houthis. His brother, the journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, was abducted by the Houthis in 2015 and sentenced to death in 2020. 

The court found the couple guilty of smuggling Buthaina Mohammed Al-Raimia — the Yemeni child injured in an errant airstrike by the Arab coalition in 2017 — to Riyadh. 

The child was sent to Riyadh by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, where she received life-saving medical treatment. Once she was fully recovered, she was returned to her family in northern Yemen.

Ahmed Arman, Yemen’s minister of legal affairs and human rights, told Arab News on Thursday that the Houthis are using the judicial bodies in areas under their control to “settle scores” with their opponents and to confiscate their property. 

“The ministry renews its strong condemnation and denunciation of all immoral and inhumane practices used by the Houthis against citizens in areas under their control and calls on the international and regional community to provide support to the Yemeni government and help it restore its authority over all Yemeni territories,” Arman said.

He added that Houthi-controlled courts have issued similar death sentences against hundreds of Yemeni activists, military and security officials, politicians and journalists for challenging their rule and backing the Yemeni government and Arab coalition. 

“The Houthis continue to use so-called judicial authority in areas under their control to seek vengeance on Yemenis,” Arman said.

Yemeni activists and rights groups echoed Arman’s concerns about the Houthis’ escalating crackdown on dissidents at a time when regional and international mediators are pressuring the rebels to agree to a peace initiative brokered by the UN to end the war. 

“The Houthis have become violent and oppressive towards Yemeni women — employing all methods of intimidation against them. What is happening is a flagrant violation of human rights,” Noora Al-Jarwi, a Yemeni activist, said.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties demanded the Houthis put an end to their “farcical” death-sentence rulings. 

“SAM emphasizes that such rulings seriously violate a set of basic rights guaranteed by both Yemeni and international law,” the organization tweeted.