Monday, April 23, 2012

Experts Warn that Arabian Oryx Herds are Threatened from Inbreeding

Arabian oryxes

The Arabian oryx has recently made a successful comeback from the brink of extinction. The current estimate indicates that the total world population of these spectacular antelopes is about a 1,000 individuals. Although this seems like good news, experts have recently warned that privately owned herds are at risk of inbreeding. This is especially in the case of herds in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), which has around fifty percent of the world's oryx population. According to a paper published in the Conservation Genetics Journal last month, researchers stated that there was a "genetic bottleneck" developing in some captive herds in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Rob Ogden, the co-author of the report and a researcher at Scotland's Royal Zoological Society, explained how historically zoos in the West specialized in very intensive management by controlling and logging every single mating. In the U.A.E, however, the animals were split into lots of different collections and breeding was unmanaged. He further added that genetic diversity in a reintroduced herd is far healthier than a captive herd. Declan O'Donovan, director of wildlife services at Dubai's Wadi Al Safa Wildlife Center, stated that the problem was first discovered about ten years ago. He also added that herds with a low genetic diversity are prone to novel infections, and have a drop in fertility.

In my opinion, this report gives a clear idea about the future fate of the Arabian oryx. Just because its population numbered around 1,000 does not mean it is a sigh of relief. There are many privately owned herds in parts of Arabia that are prone to inbreeding. Dr. Ogden explained how the animals' mating were carefully controlled and recorded in zoological institutions in the west, but were unmanaged in their native homeland. For this reason, I firmly believe that the Middle East and the West should once again team up to help each other in properly managing Arabian oryx herds in the region. The Wadi Al Safa Wildlife Center, which has around 300 animals, is just one case in which there is a constant effort to improve the animals' genetic diversity. Founders from different places come to make sure the populations are pretty diverse. However, there are several other privately owned herds in the Middle East where the situation is critical. This is why, it is crucial to help the Arabian oryx before its global population once again fluctuates like it did decades ago.

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