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Quiet Victory
11 x 14
In 1980, when I was 12 years old, my father was stationed in the Middle East as part of a UN peacekeeping mission and our family had the opportunity to go along with him. We toured throughout the region and I remember one day in particular. As we drove through the Negev desert there, in the middle of the barren expanse of sand, was a large fenced enclosure. Inside it were several animals that I had never seen before – and I was a huge wildlife enthusiast even at that age! They were the most stunning antelope species I had ever seen with black and cream colouring and long, perfectly straight horns.

They were Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) native to desert and steppe areas of the Arabian Peninsula. This species was hunted extensively from 1950 and by 1972 they had become extinct in the wild. By 1980, however, captive breeding programs at zoos had enough Oryx stock to attempt reintroduction to the wild. Many were held in captivity throughout the Middle East in large fenced enclosures in preparation for release. Little did I know at the time in 1980 that what I had seen was one of these enclosures and the animals I observed were soon to become one of the most successful reintroductions of an extinct species to date.

I had since wanted to paint or draw an Arabian Oryx but never felt I could do it justice. It was only after working in scratchboard that I realised this was the perfect medium to capture their understated elegance. Although the reintroduction was a quiet victory, this species is still listed as endangered with only 1100 left in the wild and 6-7000 in captivity. Sanctuaries for these animals are now being lost for oil prospecting and their future is uncertain.