How development is going hand in hand with conservation in Saudi Arabia

How development is going hand in hand with conservation in Saudi Arabia
The Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif is just one of the many beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia’s rewilding initiatives. (RCU)
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Updated 23 September 2022

How development is going hand in hand with conservation in Saudi Arabia

How development is going hand in hand with conservation in Saudi Arabia
  • The Arabian leopard is just one face of the Kingdom’s commitment to the regeneration of its landscapes and wildlife

LONDON: It’s not every day that one government takes the trouble to congratulate another on the birth of a pair of cats.

But a very special message last month from the US embassy in Riyadh celebrated the arrival, not of two ordinary felines, but a pair of female leopard cubs, symbols of one of the most ambitious captive breeding programs in the world.

“Congratulations Saudi Arabia on your newest and most adorable residents,” said an embassy tweet on Aug. 18. The Royal Commission for AlUla, it added, “is doing an impressive job working to save the critically endangered Arabian leopard.”

It certainly is. 

The Arabian leopard has graced the wild landscapes of Saudi Arabia for millennia. (Alamy)

The RCU was established in 2017 to preserve and develop AlUla, a region of outstanding natural, historic, and cultural significance in northwest Saudi Arabia, as a global destination that people will come to live, work and visit.

Since then, it has launched a range of initiatives in fields including archaeology, tourism, culture, education, and the arts “reflecting a commitment to meeting the economic diversification, local community empowerment, and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program.”

Part of the heritage of AlUla, and Saudi Arabia in general, is the Arabian leopard, which graced the wild landscapes of Saudi Arabia for millennia. 

A Baboon is pictured in the southern Saudi city of Abha in Asir province. (Getty Images/AFP)

Images of the animal, dating back to between 6,000 and 11,000 years ago, can be found among the thousands of petroglyphs hand carved into the rocks in Saudi Arabia’s Hail region, adopted by UNESCO in 2015 as a World Heritage Site of “outstanding universal value.”

Today, after centuries of persecution at the hands of farmers and hunters, and the steady loss of habitat to modern development, the Arabian leopard is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” — just one short step away from extinction in the wild.

Sightings of this magnificent animal are incredibly rare. There could be fewer than 100 in the entire Arabian Peninsula, where they are found mainly in the Dhofar mountains of Oman, and in Saudi Arabia, the leopard is feared to be all but extinct.

The RCU plans to change that by breeding sufficient numbers of the animal in captivity for release into the mountains of AlUla, a natural habitat where they once roamed for thousands of years.

The two cubs whose births were celebrated last month were the latest of 18 born so far at the RCU’s Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif.

AlUla is home to five nature reserves, covering an area of 12,500 square kilometers, all regarded as possible future habitats for Arabian leopards. Anticipating the release of the first leopards into the wild in 2030, the RCU is busy reintroducing native plants to the area to provide food for herbivores, the leopard’s main prey. 

Hundreds of animals, including the Arabian oryx, sand gazelles, and Nubian ibex, have already been released into the reserves, where they are establishing sustainable colonies.

The Arabian leopard may be the dramatic face of the Kingdom’s commitment to the conservation and regeneration of its landscapes and wildlife, but it is just one of the many beneficiaries of the country’s rewilding initiatives.

There are fewer than 2,500 of the The Rhim, Sand Gazelle or Slender-horned Gazelle in the wild. (Shutterstock)

There are currently 14 protected landscapes in Saudi Arabia, covering an area of more than 82,000 square kilometers — almost the size of its neighbor the UAE. Under the recently launched Saudi Green Initiative, plans are underway to designate up to 30 percent of the Kingdom's territory – more than 640,000 square kilometers – as protected areas. 

The existing protected areas are already home to a bewildering array of wildlife, including the Arabian wolf, striped hyena, red-necked ostrich, Arabian oryx, reem, Idmi gazelle, baboon, caracal, and many types of birds, such as osprey, houbara bustard, and pink-backed pelican, and three different species of fox — red, sand, and Ruppell’s.

In Saudi Arabia, development is going hand in hand with conservation. For example, a commitment to environmental sustainability is woven into the DNA of the Red Sea Development Company, which was set up in 2018 to develop a flagship international tourism destination over an area of 28,000 square kilometers, including 90-plus islands, on Saudi Arabia’s west coast.

The region is home to rare species, including dugongs, wildcats, and green and hawksbill turtles. A lagoon at the heart of the project contains 175 different species of coral and 195 species of fish. It is a vital habitat for endangered seabirds, such as the sooty falcon and crab plover. 

Part of the heritage of AlUla, and Saudi Arabia in general, is the Arabian leopard. (SPA)

“Preservation of these habitats and species is central to the project’s development as 75 percent of the islands will be left untouched with nine designated as special conservation zones,” says the RSDC.

Nature is also an overriding concern at NEOM, another of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects on the Red Sea. Here, even as the dream of creating a completely sustainable destination for the world takes shape, the top commitment is preserving 95 percent of the beautiful environment in which it will be set, from the crystal-clear seas and pristine beaches to the awe-inspiring deserts and mountains.

The waters off most of Saudi Arabia teem with precious wildlife, including five turtle species. Three of them — Olive Ridley, loggerhead, and the leatherback — are designated as vulnerable. Two — the green and hawksbill — are regarded as endangered. 

Some Nubian ibexes have also been released into reserves in the Kingdom. (Shutterstock)

Off the country’s Arabian Gulf coast, the islands of Karan and Jurayad are primary and protected nesting sites for the hawksbill and green turtles, which also thrive on the Red Sea at Ras Baridi, Farasan Island, Shakir Islands, Ras Al-Shaaban, Jabal Hassan, and Sanafir Island.

By setting ecological standards for development, and through a series of rehabilitation programs and research studies, the Saudi National Center for Wildlife is protecting these habitats as part of the Kingdom’s broader commitment to preserving and restoring its marine biodiversity.

Saudi National Center for Wildlife reveals species protected from hunting

Saudi National Center for Wildlife reveals species protected from hunting
Updated 03 October 2022

Saudi National Center for Wildlife reveals species protected from hunting

Saudi National Center for Wildlife reveals species protected from hunting

MAKKAH: The Saudi National Center for Wildlife revealed types of wildlife officially and permanently protected from hunting.

The NCW presented an infographic pointing out Article 4 of the Executive Regulations for Wildlife Hunting, which prohibits hunting predators such as the Arabian leopard, hyenas, wolves, jackals, lynxes, sand cats, common genets, and honey badgers.

Hunting endemic birds in the Kingdom is also prohibited, in addition to ungulates, including the Arabian oryx, the sandy-colored goitered antelope, the mountain gazelle (whether found in mountains or on the Farasan Islands), and the Nubian ibex.

“NCW has developed a hunting system which has been globally praised by environmental authorities,” stated Dr. Mohammed bin Yaslam Shobrak, a bird and wildlife expert, who stressed “it is a special and organized system designed to protect and maintain the balance of the environment.

“This system takes into account the sustainability of the endangered species. The development of the system is based on four main pillars to contribute to the development of the hunting control standards,” he told Arab News.

He stated that the first pillar is the Shariah law, as the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah prohibit the hunting of hoopoes and typical shrikes, as well as hunting in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. 

“The Prophet Muhammad has also prohibited taking baby birds from their nest when he witnessed a lark flying over his head and asked: ‘Who grieved this for its young ones? Return its young ones to it.’ He believes that taking baby birds and eggs away is harmful to the mother,” Shobrak said. 

“In addition, Islam forbids burning animals, even if they were predators which have caused harm to citizens. Regardless, this does not legalize hunting, burning, and wiping out such species, including those distributed in limited geographical areas where hunting might lead to their extinction,” he added.

Shobrak added that scientific research and specialized academic studies constitute the second pillar of the system. He said that the list is based on research presenting the endangered species of animals and birds, which are also listed under the global Red List specifying the close-to-extinction species. 

“Therefore, it is essential to exert all the required efforts to (prevent) their extinction. I wonder why people are still hunting some species when it has, later on, backfired at them. Not only this, but it has also disrupted the ecosystem balance,” he said. 

“Hunting predators, such as tigers, hyenas, and wolves, has allowed other animals to expand their area, such as monkeys, which are currently causing environmental issues requiring utmost emergency, as they constitute a direct threat to farms and properties. In addition, they have become a diseases spreading tool,” he added. 

According to Shobrak, the third pillar is what comes under the international treaties and memoranda of understanding signed by the Kingdom.

Shobrak added that the fourth pillar relies on protecting human beings and their properties through the publications made by the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Water in relation with the species prohibited from being hunted, which may negatively affect the country and its citizens. 

“The ministry and NCW have exerted great efforts to preserve the environment — the Kingdom is witnessing comprehensive and complete development shifts at all levels through the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

“We aim to render the Kingdom a role model for all the countries in this concern. The applicable laws should be an example and a proof of the greatness of the Kingdom in all fields.”

He said that some people still violate the regulations by hunting with nets, where some animals suffocate to be later sold and consumed. Some sell animals alive and transport them to other regions. 

“Major environmental problems arise (as a result of these activities) which will require large sums of money to be solved. The most accurate example is that of monkeys in the southeast of Riyadh, namely in the Dirab area, home of house crows. These monkeys are native to India and expanded to reach other regions worldwide. Even here, in the Kingdom, monkeys are spreading across the majority of the coastal cities, and wiping them out will cost us large sums of money,” he concluded.

AlUla Wellness Festival invites the world to find peace within

AlUla Wellness Festival invites the world to find peace within
Updated 03 October 2022

AlUla Wellness Festival invites the world to find peace within

AlUla Wellness Festival invites the world to find peace within
  • The festival offers a variety of sessions for people to try different things, focusing on offering mental and physical well-being

ALULA: The mystical land of AlUla has become a major attraction for wellness-seekers, with AlUla Wellness Festival 2022 in full swing.

The festival offers a variety of sessions for people to try different things, focusing on offering mental and physical well-being.

Khalid Nahfawi, a yoga and meditation instructor and sound healer at the festival, told Arab News he discovered yoga in India. “Yoga was my first introduction to meditation — yoga being the pillar of meditation, it helps you go into a meditative state,” he said. 

“When I went to India, I just practiced it, and I noticed that it is really helping to calm me down, and one thing led to another, and now I am a certified instructor.”

Nahfawi added that people who have never meditated will never understand what it feels like until they try it. “It is like trying to explain the taste of sugar to an alien,” he said.

The festival was established so that visitors would feel peace, with the sound of running water and calm music enveloping them. Greenery, pleasing to the eye, sprouted from the velvety AlUla sands, and the architecture was soft and homely; there were no harsh buildings, with wood being the dominant element.

The Five Senses Sanctuary returned for its second edition, and Nahfawi said it featured a rich program of talented instructors and practitioners. “I highly encourage everyone to come and visit and experience for themselves,” he added.

For a more peculiar kind of meditation, sound-healer Valentina Adveeva sat on the roof of a building with a circular musical instrument, a handpan, played with just one finger.

The echoing music it produced helped attendees connect to one another and create music in harmony. Adveeva said that the handpan is a very young instrument, and when played it creates the same frequency as water and the heart.

“When you play with this instrument you will release your feelings and your emotions and feel very open — it doesn’t need to be just for meditation, you can just play it because of the music,” she said.

“You are focused on yourself, you enjoy the harmony, you are just enjoying your life, and in general you are okay. That is what we aim for in meditation.”

Valentina Adveeva taught the visitors how to play the handpan instrument. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Binshalhoub)

Another workshop that stood out was a spoken word session that brought together three types of art forms: Music, dancing, and poetry.

Raghad Fatahadeen wrote the poems and then read them to an audience while her friend Bilal Allaf performed an elaborate interpretive dance.

The poems talked about the meaning of life, finding your place in the world, and much more as Allaf encapsulated the emotions being conveyed rather than the words that were being spoken.

Fatahadeen said: “I wouldn’t say it is a coincidence — because nothing is a coincidence — but that is what it felt like to me. The pieces that I wrote didn’t go through the process of writing. I did not sit down and write. It just came to me; I felt like I received it.”

She then shared the poetry with her friend Allaf, and he volunteered to perform and dance for each one. When others heard them, they went silent, pushing the pair to work together and share with more people.

Raghad Fatahadeen wrote poems and then read them to an audience while her friend Bilal Allaf performed an elaborate interpretive dance. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Binshalhoub)

“We connect to things differently; sometimes words might be too heavy for people, maybe it is something you haven’t heard before,” Fatahadeen said. “Maybe if the words are too complicated, you can still listen to the music and feel something or look at the moves.

“Bringing that together makes for a holistic experience. We are trying to create a space for people that will invite people to reach into a specific state and connect on a higher level.”

Five Senses Sanctuary will keep its gates open for visitors until Oct. 8, with the festival continuing until Oct. 16.

Saudi coffee forum speakers brew up fresh thinking in sustainability

Saudi coffee forum speakers brew up fresh thinking in sustainability
Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi coffee forum speakers brew up fresh thinking in sustainability

Saudi coffee forum speakers brew up fresh thinking in sustainability
  • Expert emphasizes the importance of teaching coffee farming to the next generation

JAZAN: The second day of the Saudi Coffee Sustainability Forum welcomed some of the Kingdom’s experts in medicine, research and agriculture to shed light on Saudi Arabia’s expanding coffee industry.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture and held at the Grand Millennium Jazan, the second day of the forum took a deeper look into joint cooperation in the agricultural sector as well as the positive and negative effects of caffeine.

During the first session, the panelists highlighted ways to promote research cooperation on a global basis and the current obstacles faced within the local coffee industry limiting international progress.

The speakers highlighted the important role the government and research agencies can play in the coffee sector. They also covered the specifics of farming coffee such as the types of beans, climate conditions, and the growing customer demand.

Bandar Al-Fifi, director of the National Coffee Component Food and Agriculture Organization, said: “Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages worldwide, and the average daily consumption of coffee is increasing year after year. The consumption of coffee (is) increasing worldwide and with it so is this demand.”

He stressed that this increase in consumption requires a rise in production to meet demand. He emphasized the importance of teaching the next generation about farming to secure growth for the industry.

Industry leaders need to teach “the importance of applying good practices of farming techniques, and strategies to protect the coffee from diseases and pests, in addition to knowing the varieties that must be grown in order to achieve high productivity and reduce crop losses,” he stressed.

During the same session, Radi Al-Faridi, deputy director general of the National Research and Development Center for Sustainable Agriculture, discussed the importance of cooperation of all authorities in agricultural integration.

“The definition of agricultural sustainability includes all environmental, social and economic aspects,” Al- Faridi said.

“Currently coffee is considered the second-largest traded commodity in the world after oil, with the global coffee market value reaching $102 billion in 2020. It is expected that the coffee market will continue to grow to reach a rate of 4.28 percent during the period 2022-2026, as we find that the expansion in the coffee market increases so will the pressure on coffee supply chains,” he said.

The second session of​​ the Saudi Coffee Sustainability Forum welcomed a panel of medical specialists to highlight their research on the effects associated with the consumption of caffeine.

Dr. Amzaina Al-Naimi kicked off the final session of the forum, discussing a scientific paper on the effects of caffeine on mental health.

She highlighted the way caffeine contributes to the improvement of physical and cognitive performance of individuals. Al-Naimi said that a moderate (40 mg) to medium (300 mg) consumption of caffeine was a healthy way to improve alertness.

Rania Bogis, standards and regulations specialist of the Saudi Food and Drug Association, highlighted the various components in the different types of coffee that are present in the Kingdom and the safety measures and the proper storing methods that will prevent them from producing any harmful or poisonous elements.

“Supportive dates should be written on all products, the type of beans must be written, the types of roasting included even the types of grinding,” Bogis stressed.

“For instant Arabic coffee, it must be written on the packaging and the mix label, the additives must also always be clearly written as an additive,” she said.

The forum concluded on Sunday afternoon, with the Ministry of Culture highlighting 10 achievements the gathering accomplished.

The forum was designed to examine the challenges related to Saudi coffee in the value chain, the insight of farmers, obstacles they are facing as well as the ways to support and spark the entrepreneurship industry contributing to Saudi coffee on an international scale.

Closing the forum, Raed Alsufyani, the director of data management at the Ministry of Culture, highlighted 10 concepts discussed during the two-day event that will contribute to the sector.

1. Considering the accession of Saudi Arabia to the International Coffee Organization to exchange experiences.

2- Cooperating with international organizations related to research and promoting the field of scientific research for coffee.

3- Holding a special annual forum to discuss the advantages, aspirations and achievements of coffee.

4- Studying the launch of specialized indicators in cooperation with stakeholders to monitor support for the industry in this sector.

5- A day dedicated to celebrating coffee in the Kingdom.

6- Enhancing the role of farmers to improve production and sector sustainability.

7- Supporting the innovation and entrepreneurship industry to support the value and sustainability of Saudi coffee.

8. The presence of potential in the Kingdom to be in the first place for the manufacture and trade of coffee with unique specifications, including the coffee fruit and its strategic location.

9- The consideration of establishing an electronic magazine for Saudi coffee.

10 - Allocating an annual award for the best efforts, in all its diversity and in the media and culture, to contribute to the Saudi coffee sector.

Saudi Hajj minister meets Uzbek president in Tashkent

Saudi Hajj minister meets Uzbek president in Tashkent
Updated 03 October 2022

Saudi Hajj minister meets Uzbek president in Tashkent

Saudi Hajj minister meets Uzbek president in Tashkent
  • Officials discussed the possibility of increasing the number of flights between the Kingdom, Uzbekistan amid Hajj and Umrah reforms

RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah met President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan in the capital Tashkent, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

During his two-day visit, the Saudi minister conveyed the greetings of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the president, the Uzbek government and the people, conferring their wishes for further growth and prosperity for Uzbekistan in light of the ongoing reforms that the republic is witnessing.

He stressed that the visit is an extension of distinguished historical relations between the two countries. The meeting resulted in several cooperation agreements in various fields, such as the Hajj and Umrah, which reflects the great efforts of the leadership in serving Islam and Muslims and facilitating procedures for pilgrims and Umrah performs.

The minister added that the recent Hajj season saw the participation of some 12,000 Uzbek pilgrims after authorities increased the numbers of pilgrims following the ease of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that more than 36,000 people from Uzbekistan have performed Umrah during the last two months, the majority of whom managed to visit Madinah and pray at Al-Rawdah Al-Sharifah and travel to religious and historical sites in Madinah.

Al-Rabiah’s visit included the holding of several meetings with various officials to discuss means of enhancing cooperation and developing distinguished ties between the two countries.

Hajj and Umrah services and programs for Uzbek pilgrims have improved as they are now offered electronically through the Nusuk platform, quickly issuing visit and Umrah visas. Al-Rabiah pointed out that the Umrah visa has been extended from one to three months for all Umrah performers of all nationalities.

The minister met with several Uzbek officials as part of boosting cooperation between the two countries and stressing the deep-rooted bilateral relations.

The two officials also reviewed means to enhance strategic bilateral cooperation to enhance the quality of services provided to Uzbek Umrah performers, in addition to discussions on the possibility of increasing the activities of joint committees in several aspects, including increasing the number of flights between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia to develop training material for cultural sites

Saudi Arabia to develop training material for cultural sites
Updated 03 October 2022

Saudi Arabia to develop training material for cultural sites

Saudi Arabia to develop training material for cultural sites

RIYADH: In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism has developed 28 training materials for cultural heritage sites and cultural tourism paths in the Kingdom.

This aims to improve the training of tourist guides, helping them to create a distinctive tourism experience by improving their efficiency and providing them with accurate information about the Kingdom’s cultural heritage sites.

It comes in the context of the role of the Culture Ministry, represented by the Heritage Authority and the Museum Commission, to support national heritage based on its resources and responsibilities toward preserving this heritage and raising awareness about its importance and civilizational value.

The training material includes rich, reliable information that help tourist guides perform their tasks.

It is expected to benefit more than 2,000 (male and female) trainees in the first phase, as the Tourism Ministry aims to keep pace with the prosperity expected for the tourism guidance profession in the Kingdom.