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Reintroduction of the Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx in Jordan: war and redemption

  • Lee E. Harding, Omar F. Abu-Eid (a1), Nashat Hamidan (a2) and Ahmad al Sha'lan (a3)

Following the extinction of the Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx in the wild in 1972 Jordan began a reintroduction programme in 1978 with 11 founding animals. When the herd size reached 31 in 1983 most were released from captive breeding pens into the 342 km2 Shaumari Nature Reserve, part of which (22 km2) was fenced the following year to protect the oryx and exclude livestock. The herd grew initially (between 1979 and 1986) at about 23% per year. In 1990, when the herd numbered 79, its management was preparing to release it into the wild outside the fenced reserve. However, Bedouin families fleeing the Gulf War in Kuwait and Iraq brought 1.6 million sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys into Jordan. These livestock so overgrazed potential oryx habitat throughout the arid rangelands that reintroduction was impossible. Overcrowding within Shaumari became apparent by 1995, when the population numbered 186. The herd's rate of increase began to decline as productivity and recruitment decreased and mortality increased. In 1997, to reduce overcrowding, the herd's management began dispersing them to other Middle Eastern countries and to another nature reserve in Jordan. By February 2006, 43 oryx remained at Shaumari. In 2005, however, the prospects improved when the United Nations Compensation Commission awarded Jordan the cost of environmental damages resulting from the 1990–1991 Gulf War. Part of this award is designated for renewal of the captive breeding and reintroduction programme.

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