By Hana Namrouqa

SHAUMARI WILDLIFE RESERVE – The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is currently introducing Arabian Oryx from Saudi Arabia to the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve.

The measure seeks to prevent inbreeding and subsequent genetic disorders in Arabian Oryx herds in the reserve, according to Shaumari Wildlife Reserve Director Ashraf Halah.

“The Arabian Oryx in the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve are from the mating of two genetically related animals since 1978. We have been looking across the Arab region for Arabian Oryx with a different stud book to allow mating between two genetically different types of Oryx,” Halah told reporters during a media tour of the reserve organised by the RSCN last week.

A stud book or a breed registry is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known. It may consist of a simple certificate or a listing of ancestors in the animal’s background, sometimes with a chart showing the lineage, according to web sources.

“So far, there is no inbreeding within the Arabian Oryx in the Shaumari reserve, however, some signs of slight genetic disorders are showing in the herd such as below-average height and life expectancy of the animal,” Halah told The Jordan Times.

Inbreeding results from the mating of two genetically related parents, which can increase the chances of offspring being affected by recessive or deleterious traits. This generally leads to a decreased fitness of a population, which is called inbreeding depression, according to web sources.

“Saudi Arabia is donating 15 heads of Arabian Oryx; we received the first batch of seven heads last month and the remainder are expected within this year,” Halah said, noting that the reserve is considered an important breeding centre for reintroducing globally threatened and locally extinct wildlife.

The RSCN established the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve in 1975 mainly to reintroduce extinct species, including the Arabian Oryx, one of the most endangered animals in the world.

This desert animal was saved from the edge of extinction by international rescue efforts and Shaumari was the first reserve to house this species on Arabian soil again, according to the RSCN.

Eight animals were flown over in 1978 from the World Breeding Herd at the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona, and by 1999 the herd grew to over 200 animals, some of which have already been released into the wilderness of Wadi Rum.

Several countries in the region have programmes to protect the Arabian Oryx and reintroduce them into the wild, while there are captive populations in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, besides Jordan.

Wild populations of Oryx are found in the Uruq Bani Maarid protected area of Saudi Arabia, established in 1995 with captive-bred animals from elsewhere in the country, as well as at Jiddat Al Harasis in Oman where the animals were reintroduced in the early 1980s.

The last Arabian Oryx to survive in the wild were located in the Jiddat Al Harasis in 1972.