Monday, February 4, 2008

Scimitar-horned Oryx at Bamberger Ranch

History of the Species Survival Program for the Scimitar-horned Oryx at BRP.

If you haven't visited the Bamberger Ranch Preserve, you may not have seen our oryx herd. They are members of a Species Survival Program (SSP) which is part of a cooperative effort between the American Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Bamberger Ranch and zoos that are members of the AZA.

The Scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) is a handsome animal the size of a pony, with long horns that sweep over it's back like a curved Scimitar sword.

Its coloration and physical adaptations allowed it to live in Africa below the Sahara Desert in areas where water is scarce and heat fierce in the summer months. Their kidneys work to hold moisture in their bodies so they don't need to drink water often. They are now considered "extinct in the wild" but many individuals live in zoos, animal parks, and private ranches around the world.

Oryx are gregarious animals and the females live in herds. If a truck drives into their pasture they all look up at the same time. Here a group of them are looking at us trying to decide whether to stay or run.

These young oryx have horns that are short and straight when compared to adults. There are a number of scratches and punctures scars on their bodies which they inflicted on each other while "playing".

The Scimitar Horned Oryx is no longer seen in the wild in Africa. Its historic range was among the grasslands on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, and were found primarily in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan.

There are reasons that Scimitar-horned oryx are "extinct in the wild". The Sahara desert is expanding and there is less grass and fewer water sources. A second reason is the huge increase in the number of people living there. Grasslands have been lost to crops, villages, and domestic animals. Hunting wild animals for meat was a way for hungry people to feed their families, and many oryx were killed for food. Finally people noticed that they were gone.

About 25 years ago, the AZA asked Mr. Bamberger to assist them with a Species Survival Program. Because the zoos have limited space, they asked Mr. Bamberger to donate acreage and become the first private landowner to cooperate with such a program.

Mr. Bamberger agreed to donate and prepare 640 acres (one square mile) to save a species from extinction. Scientists came to the ranch and did an extensive study of the land, our rainfall, and grass coverage. They decided that the Scimitar Horned Oryx was the animal best suited for our Texas Hill Country environment. The zoos found records of animals whose genetic history was known and could be traced back to Africa. In the early 80’s, 24 animals representing the bloodlines of 29 of them were brought here.

The AZA said that if the the ranch and other institutions involved would raise the SSP population of Oryx to several hundred, they would not be in danger of going extinct for about 150 years, which is the amount of time it will theoretically take for all the animals to be equally related. (BRP holds approximately 100 animals in the SSP program.) In 150 years if there are fatal flaws represented in their genetic makeup, all the animals will share them and the species will not be healthy. If in 150 years all the animals have no genetic problems and are healthy they should continue to thrive as a species.

If a cooperating zoo needs a breeding male or female, BRP will send an Oryx chosen by the AZA that is unrelated to the zoo's Oryx.

The ultimate goal of any Species Survival Program is to return a species to its native habitat. The wild grasslands they lived on are fragmented and heavily populated. The only hope for returning oryx to Africa would be to place them in a large fenced Preserve with a restored grassland habitat. Security guards would be needed to protect the herd from poaching.

There are now several oryx programs (in Israel and Tunisia) in which animals that were born here at the ranch are now living overseas.

Some interesting facts about Oryx:

All Oryx (6 different kinds) are known to kill lions.

They all have “true” horns, and if broken, they never grow back.

The males and females look almost identical, are the same size, have the same coloring, and possess horns.

Breeding plans are sent to us by AZA and are based on mating pairs being as unrelated as possible.

Adults weigh between 300 and 400 pounds.

The females have an 8 to 8.5 month gestation period.

The number assigned to a baby Oryx goes into the AZA’s breeding records. A tag is put on an ear for easy identification, and a permanent number tattooed in one of its ears.

Males and females are kept in separate pastures so that we can always control the breeding of these animals.

In the past I've taken pictures of baby oryx but can't find them today. I will either post some pictures soon, or take digital photos when the babies are born this spring, and post them on this blog.

If you "google" Scimitar-horned Oryx there are some excellent sites with good pictures and lots of information.

ARKive, has some wonderful pictures of adult oryx with youngsters.

Also check the website for the ranch, for a report on the oryx.

No comments: