Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Oman

Introduction

The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (between 18°45' to 20°55'N and 56°06' to 57°55'E) includes one of the only two free-ranging herds of Arabian Oryx in the world. The re-introduction there of oryx was part of an ongoing process of rehabilitating a diverse and unique desert ecosystem. The region is noted for a viable population of Arabian gazelle and as habitat for a relatively diverse avifauna including the endangered houbara bustard, a bird of arid steppes and traditional quarry of the falconer.

Threats

Heavy poaching since 1996 threatens the existence of the free herd. By 2002 this was almost poached out, but a fenced herd remains. The development of nearby oil reserves is also beginning to compromise the natural integrity of the site.

Geographical Location

The Sanctuary is on the Jiddat al-Harasis plateau in central Oman. It lies southeast of the Rub' al-Khali just inland from the Arabian sea, between 18°45' to 20°55'N and 56°06' to 57°55'E. The nearest large settlement is Haima to the west. To the southwest are the Rima and Marmul oil fields.

Date and History of Establishment

  • 1976: Ministerial Decision No.40 provided for the protection of selected species
  • 1979: Royal Decree No. 26 established national parks and nature reserves
  • 1994: Royal Decree No.4 gave responsibility for the Sanctuary to the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment. It is not legally protected and site boundaries and management zones remain undefined
  • 2007: Arabian Oryx Sanctuary became the first site ever to be deleted from the UNESCO World Heritage list

Area

Approximately 2,750,000 hectares (ha).

Land Tenure

The Government of the Sultanate of Oman.

Altitude

From 20 meters (m) to 300 m.

Physical Features

The Jiddat al-Harasis is a flat waterless stony plateau of unaltered Miocene limestone at an altitude of 100-150 m with slightly sloping internal drainage. The Al-Aja'iz well is its only source of water apart from ephemeral surface water in depressions. It is a distinct physiographical unit bounded on the east by the 100 m Al-Huqf escarpment above the Huqf depression where there are wells in Wadi Halfayn; and on the south by the 150 m Sahil al-Jazir escarpment. The property includes surrounding gravel plains north and west, the 300 m Janabah hills of dissected Cretaceous sandstone between Al-Huqf and the sea, and parts of the narrow coastal plains to the east and south. There are brackish spring oases in the Huqf escarpment and Janabah hills. Soils are mostly rocky or shallow sands over rock. Areas of fossil wood occur on the surface of the Jidda', where, at Lahob, there is also a meteorite crater. The escarpments are locally highly fossiliferous and ancient glacial striations are visible in Wadi Khalayta. The upwelling offshore waters are cold and nutrient-rich.

Climate

The plateau has an unusual desert climate with thick coastal fog banks. The mean summer temperature can range from 15 degrees Celsius (°C) in January to 34°C in July. Mean annual rainfall is less than 50 millimeters (mm), and several consecutive rainless years can occur. However, the steep temperature gradient between the air over the cold coastal waters to the south and very high temperatures inland create a strong afternoon sea breeze between spring and autumn. As temperatures drop below 8°C, the moist air condenses into fog. If wind speeds also drop, this sinks to ground level and as dew sustains the vegetation and wildlife between the unpredictable rains. During the southwest monsoon, June to September, but also between October and April there can be heavy night and early morning mist and dewfall on the Jidda' far inland; with rain this can give two growing seasons. The prevailing summer winds are southerly.

Vegetation

Plant biomass is low. However, nourished by dew, the eastern Jidda' is relatively well vegetated with a very open acacia woodland of small Acacia tortilis and Prosopis cineraria trees with shrubby A. ehrenbergiana growing in shallow sandy depressions, rock fissures and in drainage swales on the gravel plains. Over the surrounding areas a sparse cover of low shrubs and ephemeral grasses develops after rain and is used by the wildlife in the cool season.

Outside the tree zone the dominant shrubs are Zygophyllum qatarense, Rhazya stricta and the endemic Ochradenus harsuticus. In the tree zone these occur with several succulent chenopods. The perennialgrasses most important as food for the oryx areLasiurus hirsutus, Cymbopogon schoenanthus, Panicum turgidum, Chrysopogon sp., Dicanthium fovealatum, Octhocloa compressa, Stipagrostis paradisea and S.socotrana. Very extensive woodlands of Acacia tortilis and Prosopis cineraria grow in the large wadis on the southwest borders of the Jidda'. These trees are very old. Many are dying or dead and very few young trees exist to replace them. Lichens, mainly Ramalina duriaei, grow on dead tree branches sustained by the moisture from fogs. This high humidity accounts for the relative abundance of trees and the resilience of the ecosystem.

Fauna

The fauna of the region is typical of semi-arid desert in Arabia. Of the mammalsthe commonest predators are the red fox Vulpes vulpes arabica and Ruppell's sand fox V.rueppelli (K). Red foxes now outnumber Ruppell's foxes, eating food discarded by the increasing numbers of bedu camps. A rare carnivore found on the Jidda' is the caracal lynx Caracal caracal. A few Arabian wolf Canis lupus arabs (V) survive in Al-Huqf, the Janabah hills and the southern escarpment, and the striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena scavenges along the coast. Wild cat Felis sylvestris and ratel Mellivora capensis have been reported but may no longer exist. Hares Lepus capensis and hedgehogs Paraechinus aethiopicus are widespread though the latter is rarely seen. Common rodents are gerbil Gerbillus dasyurus and the Sundevall's jird Meriones crassus. Lesser jerboa Jaculus jaculus and common spiny mouse Acomys dimidiatus are less common.

The most numerous large herbivores are the idmi, the Arabian mountain gazelle Gazella gazella cora (V), with a population of about 10,000 in the area and its surroundings; a vagrant population of rim or sand gazelle G.subgutturosa marica (E); and a small but viable population of Nubian ibex Capra ibex nubiana on the Huqf escarpment, the Janabah hills and the coastal headlands between Ra's Duqm and Ra's Madrakah. The reintroduced Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx (E) (bin sola in Omani), is the largest indigenous mammal species in the Jidda', and is able to live in the desert for months without water except from plants. It once ranged widely in herds of 2-12 animals across the stony desert between the Rub'al-Khali and the sea. The last on the Jidda' were killed in 1972 and the species became extinct in the wild. Ten animals were reintroduced in 1982, the size of the herd rising to 400 in October 1996. Due to poaching this had declined to 96 in February 1999.

Indigenous reptiles include grey monitor lizard Varanus griseus, spiny-tailed lizard, Uromastix thomasi, venomous horned viper Cerastes cerastes and carpet viper Echis coloratus, hooded malpolon Malpolon moilensis, sandsnake Psammophis schokari and cat snake Telescopus dhara. Smaller reptiles include several skinks, agamids and geckos. Burrowing reptiles and rodents live in the sand-mounds which build up around Acacia ehrenbergiana.

Birds recorded over a six year period on the Jidda' total 168 species. There are 22 breeding species including golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata (V) for which this is the most important breeding site in Oman; spotted thick-knee Burhinus capensis, cream-coloured courser Cursorius cursor, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse Pterocles exustus, coronetted sandgrouse P.coronatus, barn owl Tyto alba, little owl Athene noctua, black-crowned finch-lark Eremopterix nigriceps,bartailed larkAmmomanes cincturus, Dunn's lark A. Dunni, hoopoe lark Alaemon alaudipes and crested lark Galerida cristata; desert wheatear Oenanthe deserti, great grey shrike Lanius excubitor and brown-necked raven Corvus ruficollis. A further 15 species visit the area in winter, and 104 species are recorded as passage migrants in spring and autumn. Many coastal species such as greater flamingos Phoenicopterus rubur, herons and several duck and tern species winter on nearby lagoons.

The small saline and brackish springs are important vegetated oases, attracting a variety of birds and mammals. They are also habitat for a small indigenous fish species Aphanus dispar.

Cultural Heritage

Little is known about the history of the Jiddat al-Harasis and its adjoining areas, or of the Harsusi who occupy most of the area. This bedu tribe of around 500 people speaks a language that belongs to a pre-Islamic south Arabian group and may have lived on the Jidda' for many centuries.

Local Human Population

There is no farming but herding is still practiced widely. Until 1970 the Harsusi were nomadic herders who followed the rain and grazing over a large part of central Oman, exchanging firewood for dried fish for fodder from the coast. The Sahil al-Jazir coastlands, and Janabah hills areas are occupied mostly by the Banu Janabah tribe who are both pastoralists and fishermen living in scattered settlements in the coastal regions, most of which are not included within the area given World Heritage status. The only permanent settlements are the White Oryx Project headquarters at Ya'aluni, the Al-Aja'iz well and the Petroleum Development of Oman (PDO) camps in the oil fields further southwest.

There are many maintained roads and motorable tracks. Development of the oil industry has totally changed the economy of Oman, including the lives of the bedu. With motorized transport, access through and exploitation of the Jidda' is no longer limited. Water can be obtained easily as can food for livestock, so more animals have been raised and fewer slaughtered. In 1990 the cost of the supplementary food plus vehicle running costs were barely covered by the generally low market value of the Harasis goats in the distant markets.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

The oryx introduction project at Ya'aluni has limited accommodation for visitors and students and receives around 150 guests per year. In 1998 a pilot environmental tourism project was started to encourage world interest in the site.

Scientific Research and Facilities

The main area of scientific research has been and continues to be, the reintroduction and constant monitoring of the Arabian oryx population, documented in Stanley-Price and Spalton et al.

Conservation Value

The Jiddat al-Harasis and adjoining areas had from 1982 the only viable wild Arabian oryx population in the world until 1995 when oryx were also reintroduced to 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid in Saudi Arabia. (There are several fenced collections in Arabia.) The Jidda' is also one of the only areas in the Middle East where the houbara bustard is protected. The plateau is bounded by geological and physiographical formations on the east and south which precisely delineate the natural habitat of the oryx. These also provide a complex of outstanding highly visible geological formations and geomorphological processes which are of great scientific interest and of striking scenic beauty.

Conservation Management

From the 1930's, mechanized hunting parties from the north hunted the oryx, gazelles and houbara bustard. Wildlife was greatly reduced throughout the region. Hunting from cars was forbidden in Oman from the 1960s, but the last wild oryx were killed there in 1972 by motorized hunters from the north. In 1980 the reintroduction of the oryx was initiated under the direction of the Diwan of Royal Court Affairs. In 2001 the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment was finalizing the land-use and management plans for the Sanctuary.

Three of the animals to be reintroduced were originally captured in Yemen PDR in 1961 by a consortium of international conservation organizations (FPS and WWF). These, with six from other sources, were taken to form the World Herd at Phoenix, Arizona in 1963. Ten animals from the U.S.A. were reintroduced to the wild in 1982 and committed to the care of the local Harasis tribe who regarded the oryx as their tribal property, welcomed their return and were prepared to guard them. The neighboring Banu Janabah were not included in this arrangement which has caused resentment. There were several subsequent reintroductions from various sources. The size of the herd, with fluctuations due to drought, rose to about 400 in October 1996. The protection of the oryx also enabled the ibex, idmi and houbara bustard to increase.

Management Constraints

From February 1996 continual poaching for sale to collectors and even for food reduced the wild herd to 96 in February 1999 after 40 had been removed to an enclosure for their protection. A second extinction is threatened, as by 2001 only eleven of the remaining animals in the wild were female. In 1999 the International Arabian Oryx Conference at Abu Dhabi suggested the creation of a coordinating body with a permanent secretariat in one of the range states to control the illegal transboundary movement of and trade in the oryx. The World Heritage Committee noted in 1999 that completion of boundary marking and management planning were still overdue.

The Jiddat al-Harasis is now impacted by oil company access, off-road vehicles and overgrazing by domestic and feral livestock. These uses aggravate soil compaction, degrade and destroy herbaceous grazing and kill off the perennial vegetation. Although benefits from the project are evenly spread around the tribe, local oil companies offer far higher wages and rich foreign collectors give high prices for poached animals. In addition Prosopis cineraria and Acacia tortilis woodlands are dying from old age and heavy browsing by livestock and there are few young trees to replace those lost. An assessment of the impacts of the exploitation of an oil concession within the area has been made and accepted, but the existing small settlement of Al-Aj'aiz around a borehole drilled in 1955 by the PDO which has vehicle repair workshops and small shops, together with its accumulated scrap and rubbish, already begins to threaten the integrity of the area.

Staff

The monitoring and ranger staff is based at Ya'aluni. These were in 1999: one Biology Project Manager, one Operational/Administrative Project Manager, 28 rangers and 28 support staff.

Budget

In 1998 the WHB granted US$40,000 towards capability building and public awareness. No other information is available.

IUCN Management Category

  • II Sanctuary
  • Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed 1994. Natural Criterion iv.

Further Reading

  • http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/362
  • Evans, M. (1994). Important Bird Areas of the Middle East. BirdLife International, Cambridge,U.K. p.262. ISBN: 0946888280.
  • Fitter, R. (1982). Arabian oryx returns to the wild. Oryx 15(5): 406-410.
  • Fitter, R. (1984). Rx for an endangered species: Operation Oryx. Animal Kingdom 86(6): 28-33.
  • Grimwood, I., (1967). Operation Oryx. Oryx 9(2): 110-122.
  • Henderson, D. (1974). Were they the last Arabian oryx? Oryx 12(3): 347-350.
  • lnsall, D.,(2001) Oman, in Mallon,D.& Kingswood,S. (eds). Antelopes Part 4: North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. IUCN Global Survey & Regional Action Plans, Gland, Switzerland & Cambridge, U.K. p.69. ISBN: 2831705940.
  • IUCN, (1990). 1990 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Gland & Cambridge, 228 pp.
  • IUCN (1999). Report on the State of Natural and Mixed Sites Inscribed on the World Heritage and the List of World Heritage in Danger. Gland & Cambridge, U.K., pp.15-16.
  • Jungius, H. (1978). Plan to restore Arabian oryx in Oman. Oryx 14(4): 328-336
  • Jungius, H. (1986). Proposals for a System of Nature Conservation Areas. IUCN, Gland, 477 pp.
  • McNeely,J.& Neronov, V.(eds.) (1991). MAB. Mammals in the Palaearctic Desert: Status and Trends in the Sahara-Gobian Region. The Russian Academy of Sciences, The Russian Committee for the UNESCO Programme on Man and the Biosphere. Moscow. 298 pp.
  • Ministry of National Heritage and Culture (MNHC), Oman (1992). Proposed World Natural Heritage Zone, MNHC, Sultanate of Oman, Muscat.
  • Spalton,J.,Brend,S.,Lawrence,M.(1999). Arabian oryx reintroduction in Oman: success and setbacks. Oryx, 33(2):168.
  • Stanley-Price, M., (1987). Field operations and research in Oman, in Proceedings of the Operation Oryx Symposium, London.
  • Stanley-Price, M., (1989). Animal Re-introductions: The Arabian Oryx in Oman. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, U.K.
  • Talbot, L. (1960). A look at threatened species: Arabian oryx. Oryx, 5: 240-247.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (1998). Report on the 22nd Session of the World Heritage Committee, Paris
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (1999). Report on the 23rd Session of the World Heritage Committee, Paris
  • World Heritage Committee (1992). Approximate Proposed Site Boundary (map). UNESCO, Paris.



Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.

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Citation

M, U. (2010). Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Oman. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150162

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