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Culture & Heritage
Environment and Nature
 The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary


The Arabian Oryx is a medium-sized antelope, weighing up to 90 kgs, that is exceptionally well adapted to life in the desert. It's natural habitat is a harsh climate and barren terrain with little water in which it sometimes has to cover distances of over 150 kilometres in search of new grazing. It can survive without water for long periods of time by drinking dew and fog water that has formed on the plants upon which it feeds. The oryx spends the heat of the day in the shade of trees during the hot season, only going out to graze and browse when it is cool. In winter it grazes in the daytime and shelters from cold winds at night.


The oryx has an unusual ability to interpret signals given by rain carried on the wind: this is particularly important for its survival in the desert. In response to these signals the dominant female oryx will lead a herd in search of the fresh pasture which will have resulted from the rainfall. The adult male oryx is usually territorial and rarely travels with the herds, that on average comprise 5 animals, usually females and their calves. Males will fight to defend females and territories from other males and this may result in injury or death.

The female oryx may give birth to its first calf, weighing 3-5 kgs, in the 22nd month of her life and thereafter she can give birthevery year, as the gestation period is 8.5 months. They may live to 20 years.

The last herd of Arabian Oryx in Arabia, in central Oman, was wiped out in 1972 as a result of indiscriminate hunting. Fortunately, in 1962 an international wildlife organisation had already rescued three animals in southern Arabia and joined by 8 animals donated from private collections of the region these few animals ensured the survival of the species until such time as circumstances would allow the oryx to be reintroduced into its natural range. This time came when in 1976 His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said issued directives for the reintroduction of the oryx. And so it was that in March 1980 a herd of oryx arrived in the Sultanate from Phoenix Zoo in the USAto be released after 2 years of acclimatisation into the wild in the Jiddat Al Harasis, where the last oryx had been killed and where the local people pledged to protect the oryx. The reintroduction was a success and by 1996 the wild population numbered over 450, all but 19 of which were born in the desert.

In 1994 the area was declared the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Oman's first protected area, and later that year UNESCO listed the Sanctuary on its World Natural and Cultural Heritage Register.

Unfortunately the wild herds were severely reduced between 1996 and 1999 when poachers took oryx for live sale outside of the Sultanate. However, the poaching was stopped and new measures have been introduced locally and within the region to prevent further illegal capture and trade. These measures include the formation of a regional Committee for the Conservation of the Oryx - the first meeting of which was held in Muscat in 2000. Projects for environmental tourism with revenues reaching the local people and environmental education are underway in the Sanctuary and a new visitor centre has been built at the desert headquarters of the re-introduction project.





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