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Oman boasts unparalleled gains in wildlife conservation

Nov 21, 2010

Oman’s record in the area of environmental protection, including wildlife conservation, during the blessed Renaissance years has been truly unparalleled. The Sultanate’s existing 14 nature reserves have been a huge success. The Sultanate has codified strict laws to protect wildlife from being hunted and prevent encroachment on the natural habitat of rare species by establishing 15 nature reserves.

Following excellent results in this field, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs is currently developing four nature reserves — in Barr al Hikma, Jabal al Akhdar, Masirah Coastal area and Jabal Ghahwan — to develop new nature reserves.

Barr al Hikma, a 30-square km peninsula known for wetlands, coral reefs and bird sanctuaries, will be assigned protected area status shortly. This site, situated at the south-eastern coast of Oman, will be the 15th Nature Conservation Area of the country. About 8,000 people living in Barr al Hikma will reap numerous benefits following the creation of a protected area and generation of tourism income there.

Oman’s nature reserves such as Damaniyat Islands, Ras al Hadd, Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Saleel Nature Park, Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve, and Khawrs Reserve of Dhofar Coast are some of the most precious assets of the country that go a long way in showing the country’s penchant for environmental protection.

Nature reserves, which help conserve biodiversity and rich natural heritage of Oman, provide opportunities for research and monitoring, conservation education, and recreation and tourism.

Like the existing 14 nature reserves in Oman, each of the four upcoming natural sanctuaries will feature special characteristics. Barr al Hikma is known for wetlands, landscaping and birds, Jabal al Akhdar for indigenous plants, Masirah Coastal area for loggerhead turtles, and Jabal Ghahwan for Arabian Tahr, gazelles, leopards and birds, says Ali Amer al Kiyumi, Director-General of Nature Conservation.

Consultations with all stakeholders, including local communities, other government agencies and members of scientific community are continuing as part of the management plans for these nature reserves. The work on the site is also  under way.

The International Union of Nature Conservation (IUNC) has proposed a list of 65 nature reserve sites in Oman, including Wadi Sarin in Muscat, which is famous for Arabian Tahr, gazelle, leopards and birds. As per the ministry’s plans, the target is to build one to three nature reserves per year in different regions.

Some of the rare animal species of Oman that need protection include the reintroduced Arabian Oryx, the Arabian leopard, Muscat and Reem Gazelles, Masirah hare, the Nubian Ibex, the Arabian Tahr, the grey wolf, the sand fox, the caracal and the striped hyena.

The endangered species of birds are ferruginous duck, great spotted eagle, imperial eagle, lesser kestrel, sociable plover, slender-billed curlew, white-eyed gull and golden-winged grosbeak. Marine mammals of Oman that need protection are sperm whale and the humpback whale.

Oman has been making concerted efforts to develop tourism around nature reserves in a way that it generates income without affecting environmentally sensitive places. Omani authorities have realised that for nature tourism to be a viable conservation strategy, it must lead to economic development without affecting the natural resources on offer.

By developing nature reserves Oman is trying to meet the challenge of finding a balance between two seemingly conflicting positions: inherent problem in nature tourism planning, preservation of natural resources and public use of that same environment.

The conservation strategy of the Sultanate is based on three main principles: applying the principle of prevention is better than cure, realising the modern concept of sustainable development and following up the implementation of environmental legislations, including the regional and international environmental conventions.

The Office for Conservation of Environment, Diwan of the Royal Court, which is in charge of the Arabian Tahr Conservation Project, is putting in place measures to protect the Arabian Tahr in Wadi Al Sareen, a wary, grey-brown mountain goat found in northern Oman mountains.

Wadi al Sareen is home to one of the three main populations of what is remaining of the Arabian Tahrs. The other two  populations are in Jabal Qahwan and Jabal Nakhal. The project has been operating successfully since 1975. The scope of the new management plan is to protect the rare animal in Wadi Al Sareen, 45km southwest of Muscat in the Eastern Hajar Mountains. The plan includes a demarcation fencing (currently there is none), developing a resource inventory management structure and reviewing of current and future development plans in the area with focus on wildlife strategy.

The Arabian Tahr lives at altitudes of above 2,000 metres on mountain cliffs where, unlike the drought tolerant oryx, it is dependent on small freshwater seepages. The Tahr lives in small groups.

Oman boasts a shining record in the area of wildlife protection. The Arabian Oryx has been reintroduced in the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Jiddat al Harasis by listing it on the World Heritage register. It is said that the last Oryx was exterminated in 1972. It was at the behest of His Majesty the Sultan that in 1976 an alternative route was found to encourage their return to the Sultanate by protecting them in enclosed areas, and by 1982, the first Oryx was released into the wild. The Wadi al Sareen, in the Wilayat of Al Amerat, has become the natural habitat for the Arabian Tahr, a mountain goat unique to the Sultanate.

The Sultanate has emerged now as a haven for the Oryx, gazelle, Taher, ibex, desert foxes, antelopes, leopards, hyenas and wild cats. Despite the pressure of millions of tourists thronging Ras al Hadd and Ras al Jinz, the world-famous turtle-breeding beaches at the site are well protected.

The bird sanctuary at the Damaniyat islands, and the coral reefs nearby, are both protected by strict laws that monitor scuba divers — particularly during the breeding season of migratory birds.

The inclusion of the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in the Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1994 is an indication of the world’s appreciation for the Sultanate’s concern towards the environment.

Oman is working out ways to meet the  challenge of finding a balance between two seemingly conflicting positions, inherent problem in nature tourism planning, preservation of natural resources and public use of that same environment.

In 1989, Unesco presented His Majesty Sultan Qaboos with the Legion of Honour and an international medal in appreciation and recognition of His Majesty the Sultan’s efforts towards serving the causes of peace and justice and preserving heritage and environment around the world.

His Majesty the Sultan was also chosen on behalf of the Arab nations to be the spokesman of the Earth Summit held in Brazil in 1992. In 1996, the IUCN presented His Majesty the Sultan with the John Philips Commemorative Medal in recognition of His Majesty’s support to the environment.

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