Before Friends of Animals became a beacon of hope for the endangered scimitar-horned oryx back in 1999, people in Africa were left to read about the species in the journals of 19th century explorers, who wrote about seeing oryx herds stretching to the distant horizon and beyond.
That’s because the last survivors of the once plentiful antelope species were killed by hunters back in the late 80s in Chad’s Wadi Achim Faunal Reserve, forcing the mammal into extinction in the wild. Hunting is the major cause of the species decline. Hunting has been carried out by nomads, oil surveyors and military personnel, for meat, hides, horns and sport.
But on Feb. 22, 1999, FoA facilitated the return of the scimitar-horned oryx to Senegal, marking the start of an historical project of faith, compassion and planning. Eight antelopes traveled from Israel and arrived in Senegal, taking up residence in their ancestral home. Today, 246 oryxes thrive within two expansive, fenced, fully-protected reserves, Guembeul Faunal Reserve and Ferlo National Park, re-establishing a presence in their African homeland. FoA’s efforts to assist oryxes have also benefitted Dama gazelles. The goal is for all of these endangered antelope to live in protected freedom one day.
Here are some milestones we marked along the way and recorded in our Action Line magazine:
● February 1999 --FoA decided to work with seven adolescents (four females and three males) and one young adult female( a nanny who imposes some stability on the group). The oryxes were received at the fenced 1,800-acre Guembeul Faunal Reserve about a two-hour drive from the capital of Dakar.
● Also in 1999, FoA began working with the Senegalese National Parks Department and the Isreali nature protection authority to create another destination for oryxes—Ferlo National Park. Oryxes disappeared around 1915 from Ferlo, an expansive tract of about 2,500 miles located in Northeast Senegal. It is classical Sahelian habitat, an arid land carpeted with grasses and occasional acacia trees. Ferlo had experienced degradation as a result of bad land management and overgrazing by local herdsmen and their goats. FoA helped build a park headquarters and organized an administration to manage patrols to combat poaching.
● Spring 2001-- The original eight oryxes at Guembeul became 14. Six healthy calves were born. They were the first of their species to be born on Senegalise soil since about 1850, when the last wild populations of scimitar-horned oryxes in Senegal were exterminated by hunters. (Sadly one oryx died from a snake bite.)
Also work continued to restore the complex ecological integrity of the landscape of Ferlo National Park. The first priority was to erect a protective fence so that a core area of vegetation could be protected from herds of cows. In addition tons of silt was excavated from Vendou Katane Pond, which had seriously diminished the ponds ability to provide fresh water.
● Fall 2001-- A birth of a female calf brings the herd’s population is up to 16, precisely double the original eight that we delivered to Senegal in 1999. Doubling the original population is an important milestone when breeding a species that is widely defined as critically endangered. In addition, the little calf is the first “F-2” animal. F-2 is biologists shorthand for “second filial generation.” It means that one of the oryxes born at the reserve grew up and became a mother herself. This is one of the most important achievements for any endangered species breeding project and confirms the projects viability.
● January 2003--After an enclosure of about 1,700 acres had been built at Vendou Katane pond in the Ferlo National Park, eight oryxes were translocated from Guembeul Fauna Reserve.
●Spring 2006-- During a visit to Senegal in December of 2005, FoA President Priscilla Feral observes the progress of oryxes and gazelles. The number of oryxes at Ferlo National Park and at Guembeul continued to rise steadily, bringing the total to more than 50.
● December 2011-- Once again FoA President Priscilla Feral visits FoA’s projects protecting endangered antelope. Feral is thrilled to see more than 40 oryxes during her visit to Ferlo. Overall, there are about 175 oryxes among both reserves at the end of 2011. She also set up a fund to help provide more water for antelopes at Ferlo.
● 2013-- In fiscal year 2013, FoA allocated $66,000 toward the Oryx Fence Project to expand the oryx and Dama gazelle habitat at Ferlo.
● 2014-- FoA allocates $24,500 for habitat restoration inside Guembeul Reserve so that invasive cactus (Opuntia tuna) can be reduced and removed. It has spread so rapidly that it’s impacting grazing for oryxes and gazelles. A count of oryxes in both reserves reveals 246 oryxes within 4,693 acres.