Saudi Arabia’s nature reserves thrive in bid to replenish numbers of threatened animals

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Updated 16 November 2020

Saudi Arabia’s nature reserves thrive in bid to replenish numbers of threatened animals

  • Peninsula’s landscape, home to many species, needs protection

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is increasing the number of its protected lands and nature reserves to replenish the dwindling number of indigenous species.

The peninsula’s diverse and unique landscape, home to many species, is in need of protection and a number of conservation projects and funds have been initiated to address the issue. Several projects spearheaded by the Kingdom and neighboring countries are attempting to stop dwindling numbers but there is a long way to go. Natural forces can strain an animal population but years of increasing human activity in the region, urbanization, poaching and habitat loss have resulted in native animals being placed on the endangered list. From the Arabian leopard, Arabian oryx and Rhim gazelle to the Lappet-faced vulture and the Asian Houbara that uses the northeastern region of the Kingdom as a migratory pit stop, more needs to be done.
Last Thursday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the Kingdom has experienced exponential economic growth in the past three years. In his speech to the Shoura Council, he highlighted that conservation in the Kingdom has risen 14 percent in the past three years from just 4 percent. A Special Forces for Environmental Security had been established with the sole purpose of protect the environment, wildlife and biodiversity and enforcing the law.
From Harrat Al-Harrah, the first nature reserve established in the Kingdom in 1987 to the Sharaan, inaugurated by the crown prince in 2019, 15 nature reserves and protected lands are supervised by the Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWF) in coordination with different funds, agencies, royal commissions and relevant bodies that build up a self-sustaining population.
The 15 nature reserves, established over more than 30 years, have revealed the importance of protecting animals on the verge of extinction in the Kingdom and beyond. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology noted that captive breeding is not a solution unless animals in the wild are protected. Nevertheless, experts have not ruled it out and are hopeful that captive breeding can help to replenish numbers.
Working with partners, Saudi Arabia is replenishing populations that are on the brink of extinction if they do not receive attention now.
The Arabian ostrich was declared extinct in the wild in the late 1930s due to overhunting and commercial exploitation. A red-necked similar breed found in northeastern Africa was brought to the Kingdom in 1988-89 from Sudan to reintroduce them to the land.
The Arabian oryx, classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species, has received much-needed attention by the Kingdom and the UAE and has seen a surge in its numbers, currently around 1,000 due to the combined effort and strict laws prohibiting hunting and poaching the animal. Speaking to Arab News last year, experts at IUCN said that they categorize the number of species that are of reproductive age: “For the oryx to move to the ‘near-threatened’ category, we’d need to get figures to about 1,400 of these animals, so about half as many again. Considering where we were and where we are now, this is an achievable feat.”
In June, the first generation of native-born gazelles was placed in the wild at AlUla’s Sharaan nature reserve. Last week, the Royal Commission for AlUla launched the second phase of its plan to resettle local species that included the release of 25 Nubian ibexes, 20 mountain gazelles, 50 Rhim gazelles and 10 Arabian oryx.
Head of the Reserve, Dr. Ahmed Al-Malki said: “As water and food were secured temporarily for the animals that will be released, a team of rangers, with the support of the Special Forces for Environmental Security, will monitor the wild animals throughout the duration of the program to ensure the safety of the animals and their adaptation to their new environment.”
“We aim to ensure the biodiversity’s sustainability and prosperity of the natural habitats in the region, which in return will enhance the preservation of wildlife,” he said. Not many animals are so lucky and due to small populations, conservation prospects could take a long time: 200 Arabian leopards, the world’s smallest leopard, are believed to be the only surviving population in the peninsula. Most are held in captivity across the Kingdom, the UAE, Oman and Yemen. Classified as critically endangered, reintroducing them to the wild could be risky.
In a bid to save the native cats, a $20 million deal was struck between the Royal Commission of AlUla and Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization that aims to help preserve big cats internationally and focus on the protection of local species.
Two cubs were born at the Prince Saud Al-Faisal Wildlife Research Center in Taif last year, a significant moment for the RCU. There is still hope yet.


Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

Nutrition is the most important part when it comes to bodybuilding, then comes type of exercise, and good rest. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

  • Ali Al-Salam, who stopped consuming animal products in 2017, says certain steps must be completed to have an athletic body

JEDDAH: The vegan diet has risen in popularity in Saudi Arabia in recent years and has been a constant topic of debate among Saudis, attracting the interest of many, including athletes.

Ongoing debates about whether the vegan diet is sufficient for normal people, let alone bodybuilders, abound, but one Saudi is answering them physically.
Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.
Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.
Speaking to Arab News, 33-year-old Saudi vegan bodybuilder, Ali Al-Salam, who first started his vegan diet three years ago when he was suffering from high blood pressure, highlighted that the consumption of animal products is a deep rooted idea among bodybuilders and athletes.
“We always hear that in order to build muscle, we must consume animal products. In some parts of the world, there are people who can only have a small amount of animal products yet they live their lives healthily and comfortably and are not suffering from malnutrition — on the contrary, they have a lower level of chronic illnesses.”

When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.

Ali Al-Salam, Saudi vegan bodybuilder

He said it also opened his eyes to what goes on in the dairy and meat industry; he began researching in 2016 and decided to become vegan in 2017.
“I was just like every other athlete, I used to consume a high amounts of protein. I remember in the last days before turning vegan, I used to have 10 egg whites and a piece of steak for breakfast to fulfil my protein needs. This made me think, ‘is this the only way to consume protein?’ And from then on, I started researching and got introduced to the vegan diet at a larger scale,” he said.
“When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.”
He explained that bodybuilding does not solely rely on protein, and that there are steps that must be completed in order to reach an athletic body. Nutrition is the most important part, then comes type of exercise, and good rest.
“When we talk about good nutrition, it does not just rely on protein. Yes, it is important, but the amount of calories in general is more important,” he said.
“Let’s say you needed 200 grams of protein, does that mean if you consumed 200 grams of it, you would gain muscle? No. You need all the basic nutrients to reach a certain amount of calories in general,” he added.
He highlighted that as soon as people register for gym memberships, they immediately look for supplements because they think they cannot reach the needed amount of protein.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.

• Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease.

• But other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.

• Vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants.

• Animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.

“I’m talking about non-vegans here too, where their protein intake is already high. Marketing plays a big role here. People link protein to animal products because our society grew up with this idea as well.
“Can a vegan build muscle? Yes, when they eat right, exercise correctly and rest well. The misconception about protein stems from amino acids. People think vegan food lacks amino acids, and only animal products are full of them and that is far from the truth,” he added.
When comparing vegan athletes to regular athletes, he said vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants which helps greatly in recovery, and because “animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.”