Genetics of the Scimitar-horned Oryx
Genetics project of the scimitar-horned oryx
Once widespread and abundant across the Saharan region, the scimitar-horned oryx is now extinct in the wild. However, from a founder population of around 40 animals, there are now several thousand in captivity.
Moreover, a dozen former range states have declared their interest in returning the oryx to its former habitat and prospects for reintroduction are good.
Releases in fenced areas of Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal have shown encouraging results over relatively short periods of time, but all with limited founders from captive stock. Theoretically, long term success of true reintroduction will be in part dependent on the ability of the species to adapt to natural conditions without overt human intervention. Hence, selection of appropriate genetic stock to diversify existing semi-free ranging populations and fulfil broader reintroduction goals is essential, while sound management of captive populations as a backup remains critical.
Records show that the global gene pool of scimitar-horned oryx is almost entirely represented in the European (EEP) and North American (SSP) captive populations. However, with missing or questionable data in the International Studbook, the relationship between these populations and a limited number of oryx of unknown origin elsewhere in the world requires further understanding.
We explored the patterns of genetic diversity across European, North American, and other selected captive groups of oryx using microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA control region sequencing.
This provided recommendations for captive breeding and reintroduction. Together with available data on closely related species, we were also able to report on the structure and evolution of the mitochondrial DNA control region in oryx.
As a result specific recommendations for global captive management and selection of animals for reintroduction have been made, with immediate consequences for the SSP and a plan to ship oryx to Tunisia in 2007. Two publications in scientific journals have resulted from this work.