Scimitar-horned oryx

Mature scimitar horned oryx with calves drinking from an oasis in the Sahara, making eye contact Image: JOHN NEWBY 2023

Reintroducing a species that is extinct in the wild is extremely challenging. How many individuals should you release? Which individuals should you release? Genetic information can help answer these kinds of questions and that’s exactly how the RZSS WildGenes team has been supporting the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) reintroduction programme.

This large, iconic antelope is very well-adapted to the hot, dry climate in the Sahel on the fringes of the Sahara desert, where it was once found. Scimitar-horned oryx can withstand temperatures that are lethal to many other mammals. Their coat colour, kidneys, and circulatory system all help them regulate their body temperature in their natural semi-desert environment.

Scimitar-horned oryx were once widespread across North Africa, but hunting and land-use change by humans had a devastating impact on the species. In 2000, it was declared Extinct in the Wild. Fortunately, scimitar-horned oryx still existed in zoos and other institutions around the world. These animals represented a chance to bring this antelope back to the wild.

Alongside our partners, the RZSS WildGenes team worked on a ground-breaking reintroduction of oryx to Chad, providing analyses of the genetic diversity present in the captive population and helping select individuals for release. We are trialling new genomic approaches to aid monitoring the reintroduced population and have assisted with the analysis of individuals in the European zoo population and released Tunisian populations.  

Today, scimitar-horned oryx are back in the wild, with around 400 individuals roaming the grass steppe in Chad. They have been downgraded from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered by the IUCN; an initial success. Careful genetic management is one of the factors that could help ensure their future remains bright in the long-term.  

Our Partners

Project type

Conservation genetics icon

Conservation genetics

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Conservation translocation

The team

Dr Alex Ball

Dr Alex Ball

Conservation programme manager (RZSS WildGenes)

Liz Heap

Liz Heap

Senior lab technician (RZSS WildGenes)

Jo Howard-McComb

Dr Jo Howard-McCombe

Research Scientist (RZSS WildGenes)

Helen Senn 2024

Dr Helen Senn

Head of conservation and science programmes

Project updates

Date: December 2023

Scimitar-horned oryx have been downlisted from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Our WildGenes team has been working with this species for over a decade and we have provided genetic data and analyses that have helped the reintroduction of the species to Chad since 2016. With 400 animals now in the wild in Chad, the reintroduction is considered an initial success. Follow-up genetic analyses will be important to monitor the continued progress of this project and help ensure a positive path to recovery for this amazing antelope.

Scimitar-horned oryx in the wild 

IMAGE: John Newby Sahara Conservation

Sahara Conservation

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