Scimitar-horned Oryx are roaming free from their pre-release pens in Chad

Abu Dhabi: A timely intervention made by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father, helped reintroduce a wild animal back to the wild, according to a documentary screened in the capital on Sunday evening about an ambitious international conservation project.

The extinction of scimitar-horned oryx, a majestic African wild animal named after its impressive bladelike horns, was a sad news for animal lovers across the world in 2000.

Despite the animal’s ability to survive without water for months in the desert and to sense minute variations in air humidity over distances of more than 100 kilometres away, uncontrolled hunting caused its extinction in the wild.

However, the world was surprised to know that a visionary leader in a faraway land had already taken a preventive step to preserve the beautiful species.

Shaikh Zayed had already transported a few oryx from Chad in Africa to Abu Dhabi in 1990s when their population was reduced to an alarming number.

The oryx looked after at natural reserve on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, established by Shaikh Zayed, helped the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) to introduce an international project named "Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Programme".

The project with the support of many other nations aims to create a self-sustaining herd of more than 500 oryx in an around 80,000 square kilometre reserve in its former habitat in Chad.

The first group of animals, including Nya, a female oryx, have already reached an expansive two square kilometre pre-release pen in the habitat in Chad for acclimatisation before being released to the vast areas of the huge reserve in July or August.

A 30-minute documentary tracking Nya’s journey titled ‘Back to the Wild’ was screened on Sunday evening at Emirates Palace for invited guests including senior officials before its scheduled broadcast on Quest Arabia on April 28 at 7.30pm.

Speaking at the premiere, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary general of the EAD, said it was heartening that Shaikh Zayed’s noble efforts bore fruits during his birth centenary that the UAE celebrates as the Year of Zayed.

“It is regarded as the most ambitious mammalian species reintroduction programme in the world,” she said.

Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said the reintroduction programme’s success has to be attributed to the efforts of Shaikh Zayed several years ago.

Siddick Abdul Kerim Haggar, Minister of Environment and Fisheries in Chad, said a well-equipped team of rangers will ensure the survival of the animals in the reserve. The rangers have been recruited from local villages to involve the community in the conservation efforts, he said.

Following the screening of the documentary, a panel discussion was held with Haggar, the Chadian minister; John Newby, the CEO of Sahara Conservation Fund; Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, executive director of the terrestrial and marine diversity sector at the EAD; and Justin Chuven, unit head, Ex-Situ Terrestrial Conservation Programme at the EAD. Sana Bagersh, a media professional, moderated the session.