The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature Maintaining a Viable Population of Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle in Jordan a proposal for the Sustainable Management

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The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature

Maintaining a Viable Population of Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle in Jordan
A Proposal for the Sustainable Management

of Oryx and Sand Gazelle in the Shaumari Nature Reserve

Revised and Submitted to

The Ministry of Environment

July 2008

1. Summary

Project Applicant

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature

Project Title

Maintaining Viable Populations of Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle in Jordan

Project Goals

(a) To re-develop the Shaumari Nature Reserve and improve animal husbandry practices to enable the Reserve to successfully support viable populations of Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle that can be used to supply reintroduction programmes in other parts of the Kingdom and elsewhere in the Middle East

(b) To utilize the tourism potential of the Arabian Oryx as a vehicle for raising awareness of desert conservation issues and for generating revenue to support the sustainable management of the Shaumari reserve and its populations of Oryx and Gazelle.

Expected outputs

  1. Optimal size for Shaumari oryx and gazelle herds established

  1. New blood stock introduced to the Shaumari oryx herd

  1. New herd of sand gazelle established in Shaumari for captive breeding

  1. Management and health care programme for maintaining viable oryx and gazelle herds devised and operational

  1. Perimeter fence replaced around oryx / gazelle rangeland area and effectively landscaped

  1. Oryx safari for international and local tourists created, promoted and operational

Estimated cost



3 years


Mr Yehya Khaled, Acting Director General, RSCN.
Mr Mahdi Quatrameez, Head of Enforcement, RSCN

2. Background and rationale
2.1 Arabian Oryx
The Shaumari Nature Reserve is situated in the Eastern Desert of Jordan, en-route to the country borders of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It has a special importance in the conservation history of the Middle East, as it was the first place in the region where the magnificent Arabian Oryx was reintroduced to its native habitat after being effectively exterminated in the wild. Four animals were flown to the Reserve in 1978 from Phoenix Zoo in Arizona, where a captive “world herd” had been established under an international conservation programme. These four animals were supplemented by a further four animals the following year and from this small nucleus herd the Shaumari population was gradually nurtured over the next 30 years to reach a density in 1996 of 200 animals. While this population increase was undoubtedly a conservation success story, serious problems began to affect the 200-strong herd, as noted below:

  • The carrying capacity of the reserve’s 22 kilometer-square rangeland was not adequate to support 200 animals naturally and supplementary feeding became the norm, resulting in increased running costs and damage to the rangeland. The restrictive size of the reserve also prevented the natural aggregation of oryx herds into small matriarchal groups, with a consequent breakdown of normal social behaviour.

  • The detrimental effect of in-breeding and weak blood lines became more apparent and mortality rates of young animals increased significantly

  • Predation by jackals and wolves escalated, aided by damaged perimeter fencing (now over 30 years old) and by the physically weakened condition of the animals themselves.

These problems continue to plague oryx conservation efforts in Shaumari to this day. Over the last 5 years, a number of animals have been transferred to other collections in the region in order to take the pressure off the rangeland. This initiative, combined with the losses sustained through weak blood lines and predation has reduced the herd size in the reserve to around 80 animals; but even with this reduction, limited feeding of concentrates in the winter months is still required.

In order to remedy the problems of oryx conservation in Shaumari, urgent work is required to determine the carrying capacity of the reserve, improve the blood stock, regulate predation and generate revenue to enable the herd to be managed more effectively.
2.2 Sand Gazelle
The sand gazelle, Gazella subgutturosa, has reached critically low population levels in Jordan. Once widespread throughout the large desert areas of the Kingdom, it is now restricted to a few locations in Wadi Araba and the Eastern Desert. The total number of animals remaining in the wild is not yet known but all observations indicate a continuing and serious decline, largely as a result of habitat degradation and excessive hunting pressure.
In the past, small numbers of sand gazelle were kept in the Shaumari Reserve. Most of these animals were donated from private animal collections and were not used for breeding purposes. However, the threat to free-living gazelles in Jordan is now so great that RSCN believes that a herd should now be established in Shaumari as a nucleus for captive breeding and for eventual release into the wild to supplement declining wild populations.
This proposal presents a programme of work that will ultimately safeguard the future of the Arabian oryx and sand gazelle in Jordan. It will enable RSCN to sustain breeding herds of sufficient health and genetic vigour to furnish future reintroduction programmes and it will also ensure that Jordan’s reputation as a pioneer in oryx conservation remains intact. However, the sustainability of the project - after the project funds are spent - depends on generating new sources of revenue to maintain the improved and expanded captive breeding programme. Eco-tourism is seen as having the best potential to provide continuous revenue, as well as build awareness and public support, and for this reason is given some prominence in the planned activities.
3. Main goals
(a) To re-develop the Shaumari Nature Reserve and improve animal husbandry practices to enable the Reserve to successfully support viable populations of Arabian oryx and sand gazelle that can be used as a reservoir of healthy animals to supply reintroduction programmes in other parts of the Kingdom and elsewhere in the Middle East
(b) To utilize the tourism potential of the oryx as a vehicle for raising awareness of desert conservation issues and for generating revenue to support the sustainable management of the Shaumari reserve and its populations of oryx and gazelle
4. Description of project components
(a) Regulation of the oryx herd size
Research would be undertaken to establish the optimum size of the oryx herd that can sustained within the current rangeland area of the Shaumari Nature Reserve1. The intention is to have a single (healthy) herd that maintains a normal social structure. The research would be carried out by RSCN’s in-house research team, supplemented by specialist advice from consultants working for the Oman oryx programme and for the species survival group of the IUCN.
Having established the size and social structure of the optimum herd, a management programme for the Shaumari staff would be developed to ensure that the preferred size and structure is maintained through effective husbandry, selective transfers and (over the longer term) possible release into the wild.
(b) Improving the blood stock of the oryx
There is an urgent need to introduce new blood lines into the Shaumari oryx herd to improve its genetic “fitness” and the related health and strength of the individual animals within the herd. Virtually all the current population of animals has come from a very limited stock and the consequences of this are now obvious. New animals will be sought from unrelated collections in Oman and Saudi Arabia. RSCN has long established relationships with the oryx programmes in nearby countries and the acquisition of new animals for the Shaumari herd should be relatively straight forward.
(c) Creating a breeding herd of sand gazelle
The nucleus herd would be created from animals imported from regional breeding centres. RSCN has already been in contact with the relevant conservation agencies in Syria and the Gulf and they are all very willing to provide high quality animals. An initial transfer enclosure would be set up in Shaumari to allow the animals to be monitored and become acclimatized, after which they would be released into the larger reserve. Daily monitoring would be carried out to record movements, births and deaths and the general health of the herd. Eventually, ‘surplus animals’ would be captured and prepared for release into appropriate habitats or for transfer to other collections and release programmes the region.

(d) Controlling predation and

The best and least controversial means of controlling predation for both the oryx and gazelle is to replace the perimeter fencing in the Reserve, which is now over 30 years old and showing serious dilapidation. Jackals and wolves are now finding it easy to enter the reserve through breaks in the wire and maintenance costs have become a major part of the Shaumari budget. It is proposed to investigate a new system of fencing, where the body of the fence is placed along the center of a large perimeter ditch that will effectively hide the fence from view. This will improve the visual appearance of the reserve and its potential for tourism as described under (d) below.
In addition to controlling predation, a new fence is essential for ensuring that the breeding herds are contained within the reserve perimeter and are able to be monitored and managed effectively. Any animal that found its way through the existing dilapidated fence would soon be lost and probably shot by illegal hunters. After 30 years in the harsh desert climate, the present fence is beyond repair and replacement is the only option

(d) Ensuring sustainability of the breeding and release programme

The improved management of the oryx herd and establishment of a captive breeding programme for gazelle, combined with the periodic transfer and release of captive-bred animals, will bring significant additional costs for RSCN. New and better trained staff will be required, as well as additional resources for animal health care and husbandry. The transfer and release process will also require funds for transport and long-term supervision and monitoring at the release sites.
In order to ensure that ongoing management costs can be met, and the programme sustained after project funds are depleted, RSCN is proposing to develop an eco-tourism enterprise that will generate additional revenue. The Arabian Oryx is a large, impressive desert animal and of great interest to international tourists and local visitors alike. Shaumari already receives a small number of visitors each year, including school groups, but the animals are poorly displayed and the facilities and services are poorly developed. The intention under this project is to create an ‘Oryx Safari’, whereby visitors will be transported in special vehicles, “African style”, around a predetermined route through the nature reserve. This route will give visitors the impression they are out in the wild observing free-living animals; an impression that will be reinforced by the planned re-design of the perimeter fencing as explained under (b) above. New tour guides will also be recruited and trained to give informative commentaries around the safari trails, all of which will begin at the existing visitor centre where there is already an exhibition about the life history of the Oryx
The development of a safari experience in Shaumari will greatly enhance its attraction as a tourist destination and bring substantially increased revenues to support the long-term sustainability of the enhanced breeding and release programme. It will also provide an exciting and unusual way of raising awareness about the conservation needs of the oryx and about the importance of conserving desert habitats. Such awareness is critically needed in order to gain public support for the future conservation of oryx and gazelle populations, especially after captive bred animals have been released to the wild.
The importance of sustainable financing for the project’s goals cannot be over-emphasized. RSCN is a national NGO that must raise the majority of its core expenses through fund raising and investments. It has been a pioneer in the successful use of eco-tourism as a tool for financing conservation activities and without the proposed ‘Oryx Safari’, the opportunities for generating other sources of ongoing financial support are extremely limited.

5. Outputs and main activities
The main outputs and activities proposed for the project are listed in the table below:

Output 1

Optimal size for Shaumari oryx herd established


  • Rangeland assessed and carrying capacity studies undertaken

  • Oryx conservation specialists identified and engaged

  • Report and recommendations produced

Output 2

New blood stock introduced to the Shaumari herd


  • Oryx specialists propose number and sex of new animals required

  • Potential donors of new animals identified in neighbouring countries

Output 3

Management and health care programme for maintaining viable oryx herd devised and operational


  • Programme devised with assistance from oryx specialists

  • Training programme undertaken to improve staff capacity to implement the programme

Output 4

Perimeter fence replaced around oryx rangeland area and effectively landscaped


  • Fence line surveyed and marked

  • Old fence removed and disposed of

  • Ditches and/ or other landscape treatments prepared

Output 4

Nucleus herd of sand gazelle established


  • Transfer enclosure prepared in Shaumari

  • First animals imported from neighbouring countries

  • Animals released into the reserve proper after acclimatization and monitoring

Output 5

Oryx safari for international and local tourists created, promoted and operational


  • Safari trails marked out and prepared

  • Guides recruited and trained

  • Activity and service programme devised

  • Signs and information materials installed

  • Brochures and marketing materials prepared

6. Estimated budget



Cost in $


Regulation of herd size


Fees for 2 International experts for two weeks


Travel and subsistence for experts


Improving blood stock


Purchase and shipping of 8 new animals


Creating breeding herd of s. gazelle


Shipping of 12 new animals from the region2


Controlling predation / securing the herds


Marking out new fence line


Ditching and landscape treatment


Fencing purchase and installation


Ensuring sustainability


Marking and preparing safari routes


Purchase of two safari vehicles, with branding


Signs and information panels


Operational support costs


E.g. vehicle maintenance, fuel, utilities, etc




Staff training course / study visit (up to 6 people)


Other materials and equipment


One laptop and printer for maintaining animal database


Animal health equipment


Overhead for staff and admin support



Grand Total


7. Project management structure
The project will be managed under RSCN’s current organizational structure, with responsibility for implementation delegated to the Head of the Conservation Division. Existing staff will be utilized from the Research and Survey Section, Wild Jordan Division (tourism development) and from the on-site management team in the Shaumari Reserve.

8. Profile of the RSCN
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is a non-governmental organization of international standing devoted to the conservation of Jordan’s natural environment. It was created in 1966 under the patronage of His Majesty the Late King Hussein and it has been given responsibility by the Government of Jordan for the establishment and management of protected areas and the enforcement of wildlife legislation.
The policies and practices of RSCN are shaped and guided by an elected Board of Directors. Responsibility for the day-to-day work is delegated to a team of over 250 staff, headed by the Director General. This work falls under four main functional divisions: Conservation, Outreach, Wild Jordan, Administration and Finance and ‘Wild Jordan’. ‘Wild Jordan’ is the umbrella and trading name for RSCN’s socio-economic and tourism enterprises that are using the tools of business to support nature conservation and better livelihoods for poor rural communities.
Among RSCN’s major achievements are the establishment and management of six protected areas covering over 1500 square kilometers, the successful breeding and release of endangered species, the creation of 1000 nature conservation clubs in schools, the development of substantial eco-tourism facilities and operations supporting local community development and the creation of a Regional Training Unit providing courses in environmental management to all countries in the Middle East.

1 It should be noted that the possibility of expanding the size of the reserve has been considered but for reasons of land ownership and use issues, it is not considered a practical (or fast track) proposition at present. RSCN’s preference for the future is to have a free-living herd of Oryx in Jordan, rather than contained within fenced areas. The improvement of the Shaumari oryx herd is vital if this long-term goal is to be achieved.

2 Gazelle are likely to be given free to RSCN by regional collections, except for transport costs.

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