June 17, 2011

Legendary ‘Arabian Unicorn’ Reintroduced Into Wild

A species of antelope that is possibly the source for the legend of the unicorn has been successfully reintroduced into its native habitat after having been hunted to all but extinction, reports the AFP news agency.

The oryx comes by unicorn legend because when viewed in profile the two slender horns can appear to be a single horn.

Oryx leucoryx, a desert antelope native to the Arabian peninsula, has long been on the endangered species list after being effectively extinct in the wild. Successful breeding programs allowed their reintroduction into the deserts of the middle east in 1982.

The species has thrived with hunting curtailed and this week the oryx has now qualified for a move under the Red List from "endangered" category to "vulnerable," the first time that a species that had been extinct in the wild has improved by three categories.
Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, head of Abu Dhabi's environment agency said, "To have brought the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species."

The Red List is an assessment of 59,508 plant and animal species and is a major guide to policy makers. It is the most comprehensive biodiversity compendium available, although it still covers only a fraction of the world's vast range of species.

Known locally as Al Maha, the Arabian Oryx is thought to be uniquely adapted to living in harsh, dry environments with its ability to smell water from miles away. It also has wide hooves that let it easily navigate shifting sand and lives in small herds of eight to 10 animals.

The latest published findings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List also have new additions to the ranks of endangered and threatened species. Eight new species of amphibians are classified as critically endangered, just one place from "extinct in the wild."

The IUCN says that amphibians are one of the most threatened species groups with an estimated 41% at risk of extinction. The main threats come from habitat loss, pollution, diseases and invasive species. The IUCN estimates that human impact has meant extinctions are happening at anything between 100 and 1,000 times the natural rate.


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