The Arabian oryx once ranged throughout the desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula extending to the Syrian Desert. It had been hunted since ancient times, but with the advent of motorized vehicles and high-powered weapons, its numbers drastically declined in the 1940s and '50s.
In 1962, a few months after their opening The Phoenix Zoo agreed to participate in Operation Oryx, at project to collect the last few remaining oryx in the wild, bring them into the Phoenix Zoo and breed up a herd for release back to the wild. In June of 1963, four oryx arrived at the zoo part of the group of seven initial oryx that would form the world herd. In 1972, Oryx were considered extinct in the wild, but because of the Phoenix Zoo's effort in 1980, we were able to reintroduce Arabian oryx back into the wild. The current wild population estimate is approximately 1100 animals.
Phoenix Zoo is proud to have played a significant role in saving the Arabian oryx from extinction in the wild. Operation oryx was one of the first examples of zoos working in concert with species recovery. Our current conservation mission of ex situ support for in situ conservation efforts is a continuation of our commitment to species conservation efforts.