Rare species born at zoo


Werribee Open Range Zoo is celebrating the birth of five precious scimitar-horned oryx calves – a rare species of antelope that was once teetering on the brink of extinction.

The caramel-coloured, wobbly legged calves have all been born in the last month and are slowly finding their feet on the zoo’s vast Savannah.

Werribee Open Range Zoo Savannah keeper Katie Jones said the new arrivals are a major conservation success as the species was extinct in the wild until December last year.

“Thanks to international breeding programs like the one we have at Werribee Open Range Zoo, numbers of this precious antelope have been steadily increasing after the species was declared extinct in the wild in 2000 by the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species,“ Ms Jones said.

“These new calves are still tiny and adorable, and they’re settling in so well with the rest of the heard.“

As the calves grow, zoo visitors can see them sitting together in a creche group, learning how to walk on their wobbly legs, and even running around with the ’zoomies’ in the afternoon.

The calves are named after areas in Chad where their species now survives. Their names are Dababa [pronounced Dahba-bah], Kobé [Koh-bee], Tibesti [Tib-es-tee] and Salali [Sah-lah-lee] – with the most recent calf still to be named.

Ms Jones said the calves will rapidly change in appearance as they grow.

“Lucky for the mothers, oryx are born with very tiny horns, which you can barely see,“ Ms Jones said.

“As they become adults, the ribbed, sharp horns will grow to curve all the way to their backs, which they use for scratching, protection from predators, sparring and courtship.“

Scimitar-horned oryx were once widespread, with an estimated one million roaming across North Africa. However, overhunting, habitat destruction and competition with domestic livestock eliminated the antelope from their natural range by the early 1990s.

After international breeding efforts by more than 200 zoological institutions, oryx were down-listed to endangered, with approximately 600 individuals now thriving in a protected reserve within Chad.

Werribee Open Range Zoo visitors have an opportunity to see these precious oryx calves each day and also after the sun sets during the Sunset Safari experience, which is running each Saturday from 5.30pm to 9pm until March 9.