Animals

A Desert Antelope That Was Extinct in the Wild Is Making a Comeback

Wildlife experts in Chad are set to release nearly two-dozen scimitar-horned oryx, in the second installment of a reintroduction program.

The scimitar-horned oryx, an animal once hunted to extinction in the wild, is continuing a return to its native North Africa, thanks to a reintroduction program now in its second release phase.

This week, a group of 23 of the antelopes will be released to a nature preserve in the African nation of Chad, New Scientist reports. It's the second such batch of re-introductees, with 25 oryx having been released successfully to the preserve in August 2016.

The scimitar-horned oryx was hunted nearly wiped out by hunters seeking its distinctive horns. Habitat loss and persistent drought conditions also contributed to its near demise.

However, the animal never completely disappeared, thanks to worldwide zoo breeding programs. The August 2016 group of oryx were delivered from Abu Dhabi to the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in Chad, which is also the settling site for the new group of 23 animals.

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When the first transplanted oryx arrived in Chad in 2016, it was the first time in three decades that the species had been in the country. The creatures were outfitted with GPS collars to keep an eye on their movements and allow scientists to get an idea how they were behaving, as they acclimated to their new home. Here's some Smithsonian footage of one of them being released:

The chances for the newly placed animals look good, as the first reintroduction appears to have been a success.

"So far, the animals look exceptionally healthy," Jared Stabach, of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), told New Scientist. "They seem to be adapting to the environment really well."

Ultimately, the idea is to establish within five years a population of about 500 scimitar-horned oryx that can hold their own in nature, according to the SCBI.

The initial groups are being watched by rangers, and wildlife specialists will also be working with local communities to help ward off the chance the animals will be hunted again. Things seem good on that score, so far, as well. "There's a lot of excitement in the local community about this animal being returned. They want to protect it," Stabach told New Scientist.

Meanwhile, with their chief predators - cheetahs and lions - having gone extinct the area, as the publication noted, the oryx will have yet more of a fighting chance to repopulate.

WATCH VIDEO: What Happens When Captive Animals Are Released?