Recently, 18 million viewers tuned into their television sets to watch the England football team take on Tunisia in their opening game of the 2018 World Cup and for 90 minutes, the country of Tunisia was at the forefront of our minds, but by now it has probably already drifted off somewhere into our subconscious only to spring to mind next time we try to book a holiday.
However, Tunisia also happens to be part of the former habitat range of one of Flamingo Land’s most significant animals – the scimitar-horned oryx – a white antelope with a reddish brown chest, which is believed to have given rise to the myth of the unicorn.
Once widespread across the continent of northern Africa, the oryx inhabited the dry, arid lands bordering the Sahara desert.
Its pale coat helps to reflect heat and the animal’s unusual biology allows it to tolerate high temperatures whilst needing very little water. Nevertheless, climate change initiated the decline in oryx numbers and hunting for meat and horns finished the job.
At the turn of the new millenim, the scimitar-horned oryx was officially classified as extinct in the wild, however, despite these animals being wiped out in the wild, there were still some in captivity.
Flamingo Land joined forces with zoos across the world to breed this critically endangered creature and some ambitious programmes were set up to reintroduce the scimitar-horned oryx back into the wild.
There are now around 250 oryx roaming free within protected areas of Tunisia with similar ongoing projects in Morocco and Senegal.
More recently, a project in Chad saw the release of 21 animals into a reserve the size of Scotland and in 2017, the first calf in over 20 years was born in the wild.
Here at Flamingo Land we are having similar success. The zoo keepers have just welcomed the birth of another calf, born on June 16, to mum, Hyacinth. This young male is doing very well and can be seen with the rest of the oryx herd.
So, whilst we may not have unicorns, we do have an animal that was, not so long ago, just as rare in the wild.