Oman opens sprawling oryx reserve to ecotourists

1 / 2
An Arabian Oryx at the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Umm Al-Zamool, some 290 kilometers south of Abu Dhabi near the border with Oman and Saudi Arabia.(AFP)
2 / 2
An Arabian Oryx at the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Umm Al-Zamool, some 290 kilometers south of Abu Dhabi near the border with Oman and Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 23 December 2017
0

Oman opens sprawling oryx reserve to ecotourists

HAIMA, OMAN: The Gulf sultanate of Oman is looking to carve itself a new niche in ecotourism by opening up a sanctuary for one of the desert’s most fabled creatures — the Arabian oryx.
Once extinct in the wild, the rare member of the antelope family famed for its elegant horns has been dragged back from the precipice in a sprawling reserve fenced off for decades from the public.
That changed last month when authorities for the first time officially opened the sanctuary to visitors — part of a broader bid by Oman to boost tourism as oil revenues decline.
On a recent outing, wildlife rangers in SUVs patrolled the sandy plains of the reserve in central Oman’s Haima province, spotting groups of grazing oryx and other indigenous species.
For years, the main goal has been a basic one — ensuring the oryx can survive by focusing on “helping the animals here reproduce and multiply,” said sanctuary spokesman Hamed bin Mahmoud Al-Harsousi.
But now, as numbers have ticked up from just 100 some two decades ago to almost 750 today, the authorities began eyeing another role for the reserve.
“There has been more interest in its tourism potential — to take advantage of its uniqueness and rare animals,” Harsousi told AFP.

The Arabian ‘unicorn’

The story of the Arabian oryx — sometimes referred to as the Arabian “unicorn” due to its distinctive profile — is one of miraculous survival.
Hunted prolifically, the last wild member of the species was killed in Oman by suspected poachers in 1972.
The species only clung to existence thanks to a program to breed them in captivity and in the early 1980s a batch of 10 were released into Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.
Since then, regenerating the oryx has been an often precarious process.
The Omani sanctuary sprawls over 2,824 square kilometer (1,100 sq miles) of diverse terrain — from flat plains to rocky slopes and sandy dunes.
Its own fate has been nearly as tortured as that of the oryx it houses.
In 2007, the sanctuary became the first place ever to be removed from UNESCO’s World Heritage list as the government of Oman turned most of it over to oil drilling.

Plunging oil prices

Now, as oil prices have plunged over the past few years, it is the wildlife once again that has become an increasing priority for the authorities.
Harsousi puts the current number of Arabian oryx in the sanctuary at 742 and says that other species are flourishing there too.
“In the past three years, we have been able to increase the number of the Arabian gazelle, known as sand gazelles, from 300 to about 850,” he added.
In addition to the animals, there are 12 species of trees that provide a habitat for diverse birds.
Oman has been on a push to transform itself into a tourist draw — pitching its beach resorts to luxury travelers and desert wilderness to the more adventurous.
Officials in the sultanate told AFP that a major tourism plan would be announced within a matter of weeks.
Those working at the oryx sanctuary hope that it can help play a lead role in luring visitors to the country.
But there are also fears that greater openness could see the return of an old foe — hunters.
With that in mind security is being kept tight, said Abdullah Ghassab Obaid, a wildlife guard at the reserve.
“Thirty guards and a police patrol are working to provide security in the reserve to prevent any infiltration.”


‘Colors of Saudi Arabia’ forum kicks off in Riyadh

The forum includes seminars on the latest technology in the fields of photography and filmmaking. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 12 December 2018
0

‘Colors of Saudi Arabia’ forum kicks off in Riyadh

  • Increased number of categories and awards will motivate local filmmakers
  • The efforts made by the SCTH to enhance the contest will help strengthen national tourism and inspire youth to take part in introducing the Kingdom’s many fascinating sites

JEDDAH: A forum highlighting the Kingdom’s cultural and natural heritage will be held between Dec. 12 and 16 at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center.
The ‘Colors of Saudi Arabia’ forum, now in its 5th edition, will be held under the patronage of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
The forum spans 15,000 square meters and is expected to attract over 30,000 visitors, including celebrities and innovators.
Awards will be handed to the winners of the forum’s photography and short film competitions, as well as the Prince Sultan bin Salman Award for Photography, during the opening ceremony by Prince Sultan himself.
“The forum has been given a makeover with the aim of increasing visitor numbers and interaction,” said Abdullah Al-Murshid, SCTH vice president, adding that the commission recently increased the number of categories and awards given during the contest in an attempt to motivate local filmmakers to shed light on the Kingdom.
“The move only inspired more people, even from neighboring Gulf countries, to enter into the photography contest, which will garner three finalists in each category (with the exception of the tourism film contest, in which only one winner will be selected per category). There will also be an additional voting contest held exclusively for Saudi photographers.”
Forum committee and jury members had received hundreds of photographs and video clips from both amateurs and professionals hoping to enter into the competition.
“The efforts made by the SCTH to enhance the contest will help strengthen national tourism and inspire youth to take part in introducing the Kingdom’s many fascinating sites, monuments and scenery,” added Al-Murshid. “This may, in turn, inspire regional heritage cultivation and documentation efforts.”
This year, the Saudi Film Council (SFC) partnered with the SCTH to offer a group of intensive photography and filmmaking training courses held by American and Australian trainers.
The forum, which will be held every day between 4 and 10 p.m., includes seminars on the latest technology in the fields of photography and filmmaking, specialized programs, a daily short film theater, and an educational program of workshops and daily lectures.
The forum’s educational agenda also includes discussion sessions focused on filmmaking and film production, which are conducted by 30 local and international experts.
Al-Murshid explained that the SCTH would hold mobile exhibitions throughout the year in various cities across Saudi Arabia.
Photographers and visitors can register online and find more information at www.colors.sa