Phoenix Zoo Team Travels to Jordan to Assess Health of Endangered Arabian Oryx

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International Conservation Efforts Come Full Circle for Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo
Our team will be working with actual descendants of the 'world's herd' that were brought to the Zoo back in 1962 and are now thriving in other parts of the world.

At the request of the US Forest Service International Programs office, a delegation from the Phoenix Zoo has been invited to the Shaumari Nature Reserve in Jordan’s Eastern Desert to conduct health exams on the Arabian oryx herd (approximately 30-40 antelope). The team is currently in Jordan working with the Arabian oryx herd, and Zoo staff will also examine many of the other large mammals managed by the reserve, including gazelles, ostrich, hyenas, roe deer and onagers (wild donkeys).

Arabian oryx were proclaimed extinct in the wild in 1972. Ten years prior to this, three of the last remaining oryx were removed from their native range in an effort known as “Operation Oryx.” These animals were brought to the Phoenix Zoo in 1962 where they were joined with six others acquired from private owners. These nine oryx formed what was called the “worlds herd.” In 1978, the Phoenix Zoo donated four oryx from their collection to the Shaumari Reserve in Jordan to begin their breeding program. In 1982 the world’s herd had grown large enough to reintroduce some of the oryx back into their home range so they could once again exist in the wild. The Zoo is proud of its role in this effort and considers the 7100 alive in the world today (6000 in managed populations, 1100 in the wild) to be our greatest contribution to global wildlife conservation to date.

“This is a tremendous honor for the staff of the Phoenix Zoo,” says Bert Castro, President and CEO of the Phoenix Zoo. “Our team will be working with actual descendants of the 'world’s herd' that were brought to the Zoo back in 1962 and are now thriving in other parts of the world. Being called upon by USFS and Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) speaks volumes to our successful management of the flagship species here in Arizona and our long-time commitment to international conservation efforts.”

In the 1970s, the late King Hussein of Jordan established the Shaumari Reserve as the first protected area in Jordan with Arabian oryx sent from the Phoenix Zoo. Oryx had been extinct in Jordan since the 1920s. Shaumari is managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) with ongoing technical assistance from the US Forest Service (USFS) International Programs office. The Government of Jordan and RSCN made Shaumari’s renovation a priority area for 2010 and created a new development plan in conjunction with a USFS team last fall. Improved animal care and management are top priority for Reserve managers, yet they lack basic veterinary services in Jordan. The Phoenix Zoo team will help fill this void as they conduct basic veterinary exams on all of the large mammals while training Reserve animal care managers. The team will also collect samples for genetic evaluation of the oryx herd and will perform hoof trims and other necessary preventative medicine procedures necessary to help improve overall health for the oryx and others. Lastly, the team will also advise RSCN on establishing an animal care unit at Shaumari, the first of its kind in Jordan.

“The US Forest Service and RSCN greatly appreciate the Phoenix Zoo’s contribution to enhancing animal care at the Shaumari Reserve,” says Natasha Marwah, Middle East Program Specialist, and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan. “The cooperation is particularly poignant because of the Zoo’s early involvement in helping the Kingdom of Jordan to play a leading role in oryx conservation in the Arabian Peninsula.”

The team from the Phoenix Zoo consists of Dr. Gary West, DVM, ACZM, Executive Vice President for Animal Care and Management; Dr. Julie Swenson, DVM, Staff Veterinarian; and Dan Subaitis, Director of Animal Management. They are traveling with representatives from US Forest Service International Programs office, Natasha Marwah, Middle East Program Specialist, and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan. The team will spend approximately two weeks at the Shaumari Nature Reserve in Jordan and have the opportunity to present their findings and recommendations to senior RSCN staff before departing.

About the Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo is a non-profit zoological park that serves 1.5 million guests annually. Home to more than 1,300 animals and many endangered and threatened species, the Zoo is dedicated to providing experiences that inspire people and motivate them to care for the natural world. The Phoenix Zoo’s Conservation Center provides zoo-based support for local, regional, and international wildlife conservation efforts. For more information about the Zoo visit

Arabian oryx facts:

  •     Currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, just over 1,000 Arabian oryx are living in the wild today.
  •     Once found throughout much of the Arabian Peninsula, wild populations of Arabian oryx are now only found in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Israel. All other Arabian oryx alive today (6000-7000) are managed in reserves and zoos.
  •     Arabian oryx are desert antelopes, averaging about 40 inches tall and weighing 120-150 pounds when full-grown. They have one calf at a time and live an average of 20 years.
  •     Arabian oryx are said by some to be the source of the legend of the unicorn, as in profile, these primarily white antelope appear to have a single curved horn.

Linda Hardwick
PR & Marketing Manager

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