Reintroduction in Motion: Habitat Modeling for the Scimitar-Horned Oryx

Project Team: Chad Ecological Forecasting Team
Team Location: Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland


Data layers used in the oryx dispersion modeling. Parameters included rainfall, vegetation strength, distance to water, land cover type, and human development.

Data layers used in the oryx dispersion modeling. Parameters included rainfall, vegetation strength, distance to water, land cover type, and human development.



Authors:
Tejas Bhagwat (George Mason University)
Louis Keddell (University of Maryland)
Alexander Nelson (Middlebury College)
Emily Voelker (University of Maryland)


Mentors/Advisors:
Dr. Lahouari Bounoua (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Dr. Peter Leimgruber (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)
Fritz Policelli (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)


Abstract:


The Scimitar-horned Oryx Oryx dammah is a two-horned ungulate that once inhabited Northern Africa, particularly Niger and Chad. It has a cultural history running back to the Egyptian and Roman empires, and holds significance to the people of Chad, as well as neighboring states such as the United Arab Emirates. However, the species was declared extinct in the wild in 1999, due to a combination of overhunting and conflict, as well as drought and habitat loss. Today, the scimitar-horned oryx only exists in zoos, research institutions, and private collections. The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) is seeking to address this with a reintroduction project, orchestrated in partnership with the government of Chad, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), the Convention on Migratory Species, the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, and a number of other organizations.


The reintroduction of the oryx is planned to begin in the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in central Chad, the last known home of the oryx. This region spans three ecoregions: the Saharan Desert, South Saharan Steppe and Sahelian Acacia Savanna, and covers nearly 78,000 square miles. Reintroduction in this area will require a detailed understanding of current environmental conditions to determine ideal locations and possible habitat extents. This project provided numerous layers of information for the reservation, including satellite-derived measures of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), rainfall, land surface temperature, topography, fires, and wells. To take this further, these layers were used to construct a habitat suitability model, and a simple movement model, which predicted the movement and dispersion of a hypothetical oryx when placed within the Reserve. All products were then handed over to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, to facilitate work with the Saharan Conservation Fund, and the Chadian government. These products add to the body of knowledge on the scimitar-horned oryx, and help prepare a strong foundation its future success.



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