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'Arabian unicorn' saved from extinction

  • Arabian Oryx return to wild hailed as 'conservation success story'
  • Around 1,000 animals exist, nearly 40 years after declared 'extinct in the wild'
  • IUCN Red List still classifies species as vulnerable
  • Latest list has many new species of amphibian and tarsier as 'critically endangered'

(CNN) -- The return of wild oryx to the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula is being hailed as a conservation success story.

The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species states that the wild population of the two-horned antelope species now stands at around 1,000, nearly 40 years after the last wild animal was hunted and killed.

"To have brought the Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species," said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Director General of the Environment Agency -- Abu Dhabi.

The species is now listed as "vulnerable" and is the first time an animal listed as "extinct in the wild" has improved its status by three categories.

The turn-around has been the result of conservation efforts that began in 1982 in Oman. Captive bred oryx were successfully released back into the desert habitats of the country and then in regions of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Jordan.

Known locally as Al Maha, the Arabian Oryx is thought to be uniquely adapted to living in harsh, dry environments with its ability to smell water from miles away.

It is thought that it was also the source of the unicorn legend, as when viewed in profile the two horns appear as one.

The latest published findings from the IUCN Red List also have new additions to the ranks of endangered and threatened species.

Eight new species of amphibians are classified as critically endangered, just one place from "extinct in the wild." The IUCN says that amphibians are one of the most threatened species groups with an estimated 41% at risk of extinction.

The main threats come from habitat loss, pollution, diseases and invasive species.

The IUCN estimates that human impact has meant extinctions are happening at anything between 100 and 1,000 times the natural rate.