Scimitar Oryx Back from the Brink of Extinction

Image: Wikimedia Commons

For the last couple of decades, the only place you could see a Scimitar-horned Oryx was in a zoo.

These creatures had become extinct in the wild, after being aggressively hunted for their horns and losing habitat due to a rapidly changing climate. But last August, that all changed.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Conservationists released 23 of the captive antelope back into the wild, in Chad. They were fitted with GPS collars to monitor their comeback, and the efforts were so successful that they plan to release another 23 now.

The odds were in the Oryx’s favor for this reintroduction — most of their former predators, lions and cheetahs, had also gone extinct in this region. Some of the Oryx released were pregnant, and in September, a healthy calf was born in the wild. And because these antelopes are herbivores and feed on grass, they didn’t need to relearn how to hunt to survive. As far as reintroduction efforts go, this one was a slam dunk.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Scimitar-horned Oryx, or Scimitar Oryx or Sahara Oryx, were first discovered and named in 1816, but their history extends far before that. They were bred in ancient Rome and Egypt, and it’s believed they were used as a food and a sacrifice to the gods. Their hides were prized during the Middle Ages, and some people think that a Scimitar Oryx with a broken horn was the origin of the unicorn myth.

The Oryx have white coats, with reddish brown chests and black markings, but their most distinctive feature is on top of their head: long, slender spiraled horns that extend between 3 and 4 feet from their heads and curve gracefully backward, just like the arched swords for which they are named.

Learn more about the continuing efforts to reintroduce these animals to the wild in the video below.