Environment Agency Abu Dhabi leads Damascus meeting to present regional Arabian Oryx conservation strategy
- Representatives from a number of Arab governments are meeting in Damascus to ratify strategy for regional conservation programme
- The brainchild of the late Sheikh Zayed and supported by H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Arabian Oryx conservation programme is recognized as one of the most successful global conservation projects ever
- Declared extinct in the wild in 1972, EAD now oversees a thriving population of Arabian Oryx in Al Gharbia
Representatives of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) will meet fellow counterparts from around the region at a meeting in Damascus on the 10th June 2010)to present and agree a collective strategy aimed at re-establishing a population of wild Arabian Oryx in the region.
The Coordinating Committee for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx (CCCAO), which is chaired by H.E Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of EAD, comprises of a number of member Arab governments, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, which have committed to unifying and intensifying efforts to conserve the Arabian Oryx, which once roamed freely across an area stretching from the south of Syria to the Omani and Yemeni borders with Saudi Arabia.
Today’s meeting will bring together three years of research and strategic planning with the presentation of a regional conservational strategy for the Arabian Oryx, following an unanimous agreement at a previous CCCAO meeting held at Wadi Rum, Jordan, in 2007 to develop a collective unified approach. At this meeting EAD was given responsibility of lead developer for the policy and a subsequent regional workshop involving all members was held in Abu Dhabi in August 2007 with more than 40 delegates present representing Arabian Oryx range states, regional captive breeding centres and other stakeholders.
It is expected that all CCCAO members will ratify the proposed strategy at today’s meeting, leading to intensified efforts in reducing hunting (poaching and live animal capture) as well as habitat destruction, which were the two major contributing factors in the Arabian Oryx being declared extinct in the wild in 1972 and remain the key threats today. The strategy also recommends the development of a regional studbook (or registry of individual animals), development or enhancement of legislation designed to protect the breed and programme personnel training.
HE Majid Al Mansouri, Chairman of CCCAO and Secretary General of EAD, comments: “Our collective goal to re-establish a free-ranging population of Arabian Oryx in the region is a challenging endeavour. As a result of the oryx conservation initiatives that have already taken place, a considerable amount of experience and expertise in captive management, breeding, and planning and implementation of reintroduction operations has been built up within the region. Together, with the commitment to oryx conservation shown by all range states so far, this strategy provides a sound basis for future action. We now have the expertise and tools to achieve our common vision of restoring the Arabian Oryx to its former range.”
Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), locally known as Al Maha, are endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. They are the largest of the antelopes that once grazed the plains and deserts of the region and are uniquely adapted to the extremely arid environment. Their distinctive appearance and elegant horns make them instantly recognisable and oryx feature frequently in Arabic poetry and painting, renowned especially for the beauty of their eyes. Arabian Oryx are also widely believed to be the source of the unicorn legend, based on the image of their horns as seen in profile. Indeed, the Ancient Egyptians are reported to have tied together the horns of young oryx to fuse them into a single horn. The oryxâ€™s charisma, ecological role and cultural significance make it an ideal flagship species for the fauna of Arabia.
Sadly, during the last Century the Arabian Oryx became a magnet for hunters and a victim of disappearing habitats. The disappearance of the Arabian Oryx from the wild represented a significant loss for biodiversity, both regionally and globally, but their demise also galvanised conservation efforts that led, through captive breeding programmes, to the restoration of wild populations. These reintroduction initiatives have become a classic conservation success and serve as a model for similar programmes worldwide.
The late Sheikh Zayed was one of the first conservationists to become concerned about the diminishing wild Arabian Oryx population. In 1968, he ordered the capture of the remaining four known animals in the wild and instructed Al Ain Zoo to start a captive breeding programme. After the development of Sir Bani Yas Island, Sheikh Zayed started another captive breeding programme with three female and two male Oryx, and today the island has a thriving population of Arabian Oryx which can be viewed by visitors.
The Arabian Oryx Release Programme was launched in 2007 under the patronage of H.H General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Its five-year plan (2007- 2012) aims to reintroduce the Arabian Oryx into areas of its natural habitat in the UAE, with a target of 100 heads of Arabian Oryx to be released each year over the five year period. The programme, which is overseen by EAD’s Terrestrial Environment Research Centre, aims to reintroduce the Arabian Oryx into large sanctuaries within the areas they lived in the past and create a self-contained population that can roam freely in their natural habitat under effective and long-term management. The Arabian Oryx Protected Area, established in 2007) in Umm Al Zamool, AlGharbia, is now home to another 155 Arabian Oryx, monitored via GPS and satellite tracking, across a protected area of 8,900 square kilometres.
Thanks to the huge success of Sheikh Zayed’s conservation and captive breeding efforts, the UAE is home to the largest population of Arabian Oryx in the world – more than 3000 captive animals, 2000 of which are in Abu Dhabi. The UAE population of Arabian Oryx represents more than half the world’s estimated population.
Despite the recent increase in numbers, Arabian Oryx remains classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and has been listed on Appendix 1 of CITES since 1975.
The CCCAO was founded in January 2000. Its mission is to support all initiatives to protect and conserve the Arabian Oryx, to agree regional criteria and standards, and to coordinate efforts between range states.