Marwell Zoo

Zoo conservation saves extinct in the wild antelope

Posted: 12th December, 2023

The Scimitar-Horned Oryx has had its risk of extinction downgraded thanks to conservation efforts spearheaded by zoos and Governments. The antelope, which was considered Extinct-in-the-Wild is now considered Endangered by the IUCN. 

Marwell Wildlife, the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Fota Wildlife Park have all supported efforts to restore the antelope to Chad. But conservationists warn there is more to do, as the world faces a biodiversity crisis and the oryx remains at risk of being lost. 

The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) has hailed an incredible milestone as rewilding efforts have reduced the risk of extinction for the Scimitar Horned Oryx, an incredibly rare antelope from the Sahara. Several UK zoos have been important partners in these efforts, including breeding the animals for release.  

The IUCN, the global authority on nature, has reduced the official risk of extinction for these beautiful antelope. Scimitar Horned Oryx were extinct in the wild, meaning they only survived in human care such as in zoos, now, following decades of conservation efforts, a herd of 600 oryx are living in their native Chad.  

Dr Jo Judge, the CEO of BIAZA said: “The story of the scimitar horned oryx is one of hope. To take a species from the very precipice of extinction and save it from that fate is incredible. While we face an extraordinary biodiversity crisis, this is proof that conservation does work and good zoos are leaders in the fight against extinction.” 

The oryx was once widespread in North Africa, but the antelope were hunted and have been considered extinct in the wild since the turn of the millennium. The painstaking decades-long restoration efforts have been led by the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) and partners such as the Sahara Conservation Fund.  

Earlier this year, a paper by the Zoological Society of London found there have been 95 extinct in the wild species which have only survived in human care. UK and Irish Zoos care for many such species, including the Socorro dove and Polynesian tree snails. ZSL’s two zoos (London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo) alone care for 16 extinct in the wild species. That is 16 species that would be completely lost to history without good zoos. 

UK zoos and aquariums enjoy broad support from the British public and receive millions of visitors a year due to their world leading conservation efforts and high animal welfare standards. BIAZA member zoos undertake over 800 conservation projects across the world, fighting extinction on behalf of species such as elephants and tigers, but also whole ecosystems such as our native seagrass beds. 

Dr Judge continued: “There is much more to do to ensure the scimitar horned oryx remains with us and to fight extinction globally. Only by working together can we make a difference.” 

Related Members