The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes an all-too-rare victory: The Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) has been upgraded from the Endangered category to Vulnerable. This is quite an achievement, because the species was extinct in the wild just a few decades ago. The last wild Arabian Oryx was shot in 1972. Since that time, intense conservation and re-introduction efforts have increased the species's wild population to 1,000 individuals.

This is the first time that a species once listed as Extinct in the Wild has been upgraded past the Endangered category (where the Oryx has been listed since 1986) all the way to Vulnerable.

Once present throughout the Middle East, the Arabian Oryx was overhunted in the 19th and 20th centuries until the only animals that remained were in zoos. Following captive breeding, re-introductions started in Oman in 1982. A brief period of poaching from 1996 to 1999 resulted in more than 200 Oryx deaths before the remaining animals in that country were placed in protective pens. The species was later re-introduced in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, where they have fared well.

"To have brought the Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species," Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, director general of Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi, said in a prepared statement. "It is a classic example of how data from the IUCN Red List can feed into on-the-ground conservation action to deliver tangible and successful results."

The IUCN last assessed the Arabian Oryx in 2008, when it was recommended that the species be moved to the Vulnerable category this year if its population size remained the same or improved. Counts have increased since that time.

Other highlights from this latest update to the Red List include adding 19 new amphibians, eight of which are listed as Critically Endangered, including Atelopus patazensis, a species of harlequin toad from Peru,and Dendrotriton chujorum, a dwarf species of salamander from Guatemala; the first-ever assessment of New Caledonia's endemic reptiles, which are threatened by nickel mining and introduced species; and an appraisal of all 248 known lobster species. Many of these evaluations did not find enough information about given species to place them in a specific threat category. As such, they will be listed on the Red List under the category of "Data Deficient". For example, 35 percent of the lobster species are listed as data deficient, as are two thirds of New Caledonia's reptiles.

"It is extremely important that we keep pushing forward with surveys of little-known species, as without adequate data, we cannot determine their risk of extinction and therefore cannot develop or implement effective conservation actions which could prevent the species from disappearing altogether," said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN Global Species Programme, in a prepared statement.

Photo: Arabian oryx by David Mallon, courtesy of IUCN