x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Return of the oryx

The Arabian oryx is no longer an endangered species, which is good news. But there's a new problem: the herd at a conservation reserve near Dubai threatens to out-grow its limited food supply. Still, this is a problem of success.

Efforts to preserve the Arabian oryx have been so successful, The National reported yesterday, that there is now some concern that the herd at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve may soon overwhelm its own food supply. This is the kind of species-conservation problem the world needs more of.

It's not easy being an oryx. The species was hunted to extinction in the wild some 40 years ago. The few animals that survived in captivity were placed on the "endangered species" list issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Because this species of antelope is native to the UAE, it just seems right that a major conservation effort here has been instrumental in its return - last month that "endangered" status was lowered to " vulnerable".

That entails problems of its own. In the wildlife reserves, the animals are protected from poachers and allowed to feed, breed and flourish. Now, ironically, the reserve must set up a protected space for the plants oryx eat, to learn how rapidly this vegetation grows. Without careful management, the herd, now numbering more than 400, could outbreed its food supply, which would mean a population crash.

So the work of preserving a beautiful species leads from one problem to another. Still, this is a problem of success. The oryx has been pulled back from the brink - and that turns out to be just the start.