In AlUla, northwest Saudi Arabia, we are working to restore habitats and reintroduce native wildlife to ensure that the area’s natural environment is as spectacular as its heritage sites. With the help of world-renowned experts, international partners and the local population, we are restoring what was once a fecund vibrant environment where majestic wildlife — including the Arabian oryx, Nubian ibex, Idmi gazelles, sand gazelles and the elusive Arabian leopard — roamed free.
AlUla is a place of spectacular natural beauty, with varied habitats that once teemed with life, coexisting with our early ancestors. The introduction of domestic livestock and severe overgrazing led to habitat degradation and the gradual disappearance of these species. Reversing the decline and restoring what has been lost is not an easy task, but we are fiercely determined to protect and enhance our natural heritage. We are also piloting innovative conservation techniques and setting a new standard in the region for rebalancing fragile ecosystems, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s commitment to protecting our natural environment.
The Sharaan Nature Reserve, a 1,500-square-kilometer area, will protect and conserve some of the region’s most diverse wildlife habitats. It will eliminate overgrazing by domestic livestock, strictly prohibit the hunting of wild animals and tree-cutting and create a more balanced desert ecosystem. Once the native flora and herbivores begin to recover, predators such as the Arabian wolf and red fox will have more natural prey, and their populations will rise. Other species that will benefit from the protection include the rock hyrax, cape hare and several species of bird, such as the green bee-eater, laughing dove and crested lark, as well as birds of prey like wintering eagles, harriers and long-legged buzzards.
This is all part of a wider regeneration of the region led by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). Sustainability, heritage and the needs of the local communities are at the heart of everything we do, including our approach to wildlife and habitat restoration. We are creating job opportunities for locals as rangers, guides, educators and other roles in the blossoming ecotourism sector arising from our restoration work. We are not changing the fundamentals of AlUla but rather reawakening what was already there and ensuring the next era is the most vibrant and successful of any that have come before in its long history.
One of our flagship initiatives is to create an environment where the magnificent but critically endangered Arabian leopard may once again roam free in AlUla. This ambitious project puts Saudi Arabia at the forefront of the global conservation movement. We are working with international experts — including the National Centre for Wildlife and Panthera, the global cat conservation organization — to recover the Arabian leopard. We will build a state-of-the-art captive breeding center in AlUla with the long-term goal to reintroduce Arabian leopards to AlUla and the wider region, with a restored habitat and prey base sufficient to support a viable population.
Sustainability, heritage and the needs of the local communities are at the heart of everything we do, including our approach to wildlife and habitat restoration.
We are also creating the Arabian Leopard Fund, which will sponsor and support initiatives across the region to conserve the species while supporting public education campaigns to help raise awareness of their plight.
The RCU’s conservation work in AlUla directly supports Vision 2030’s goal for Saudi Arabia to be an ambitious, thriving nation, effectively governed through the protection of our most vital assets — in this case, AlUla’s natural environment. It also supports the creation of a thriving economy in AlUla through the development of an ecotourism sector, which benefits the local community through the creation of jobs and opportunities to learn new skills needed to support AlUla’s revitalization.
Together with our partners and the local community, we will continue to push the boundaries of possibility and in the process make the Sharaan Nature Reserve a platform for global innovation in conservation, wildlife protection and environmental restoration, as well as a meeting place for experts, international organizations and nature-lovers from around the world.
• Waleed Al-Yadel is a chief strategy and EPMO officer at the Royal Commission for AlUla.