How new Netflix documentary ‘Horizon’ celebrates Saudi Arabia’s wealth of wildlife

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Updated 17 February 2024
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How new Netflix documentary ‘Horizon’ celebrates Saudi Arabia’s wealth of wildlife

How new Netflix documentary ‘Horizon’ celebrates Saudi Arabia’s wealth of wildlife
  • The film offers a captivating glimpse into Saudi Arabia’s unspoilt wilderness and protected sanctuaries
  • Konoz joined forces with the world’s best wildlife filmmakers, shooting in 28 locations across the Kingdom

RIYADH: Dazzling flamingos and mighty whale sharks are just some of the awe inspiring creatures making an appearance in “Horizon,” a new documentary produced by the Konoz Initiative, exploring Saudi Arabia’s ecological treasures and unique habitats.

The documentary, which is now available on streaming giant Netflix, is part of a collaboration between the Ministry of Media’s Center for Government Communication and the National Center for Wildlife to celebrate the rich natural diversity of the Kingdom.

Offering a captivating glimpse into Saudi Arabia’s unspoilt wilderness and protected sanctuaries, the documentary’s creators aim to raise awareness about the region’s endangered species and local efforts to rescue them from extinction.

The Konoz Initiative’s mission is to document the Kingdom’s cultural richness and to highlight the success stories of Saudi citizens by working with local companies to produce documentaries, short films, and animations.

For the making of Horizon, Konoz joined forces with some of the world’s best wildlife filmmakers, assembling a production team of 50 people, who shot segments in 28 different locations across the Kingdom.

From its vast deserts to its cool mountain forests, its colorful coral reefs to its verdant mangroves, Saudi Arabia’s diverse habitats are home to a huge variety of animals, including sea turtles, dugongs, and dolphins, ibex, oryx and the iconic Arabian leopard.

Emmy Award-winning British cinematographer Gavin Thurston, the documentary’s director of photography, is well known in the industry for his work in Human Planet (2011), the Private Life of Plants (1995), and David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020).

According to Thurston, wildlife documentaries of this kind typically take four years to produce. However, such was the level of interest, investment and talent involved in this project, the film was completed in roughly half that time.

“I suppose from the initial concept of the film through to final delivery was probably in the order of about 14 months,” he told Arab News.

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“So that’s incredibly quick. I know it sounds like a long time, but that’s incredibly quick for wildlife and natural history films. A very short turnaround.”

Thurston had never been to Saudi Arabia before working on the Horizon project. He said he had been blown away by the diversity of landscapes, having long thought of the Kingdom as little more than a vast open desert.

“I was quite surprised at the habitat variety,” he said.

“Of course, as a foreigner, I kind of expected a lot of sand dunes, but I was delighted to find those amazing rock sculptures and wadis and oases and palm trees and, you know, from the cold, misty tops of the mountains down in Abha, right down to the hot, dry deserts.

“Hopefully the biggest takeaway for the viewers of Horizon will be the variety that Saudi Arabia has to offer. You kind of get a stereotypical image of what it’s going to be like.

“But actually being there on the ground and seeing, for instance, the mangroves down on the southwest coast or knowing about the Red Sea, the variety of what the Red Sea has to offer like rocky canyons and wadis.”

DID YOU KNOW?

“Horizon” features more than 20 species, including the hamadryas baboon, red-necked ostrich, and fennec fox.

It was produced by an international team specialized in wildlife documentaries, with input from 13 Saudi researchers.

The National Center for Wildlife is responsible for the protection and rehabilitation of marine ecosystems.

The NCW has developed a plan to preserve marine and coastal areas in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

Thurston hopes Horizon will encourage foreign travelers to visit the Kingdom to discover the tranquility of the desert for themselves.

“I’m hoping that it will actually inspire people to want to travel to that part of the world and experience all that for themselves, particularly the hospitality, but also just that there’s something actually really nice about the emptiness of the desert.

“I live in England and we now have nearly 70 million people in a country that’s probably half the size of Saudi Arabia. So, even though we can find wild spaces out of the reach of humans, it’s more difficult than in somewhere like Saudi Arabia.

“I think those remote places are becoming fewer and further between. So I would encourage people to go and visit it and enjoy the tranquility and peace.”

 

 


Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values

Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values
Updated 22 sec ago
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Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values

Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values
  • Al-Sudais acknowledged the grand mufti’s efforts in addressing contemporary issues facing Muslims
  • He praised the Muslim World League’s commitment to fostering moderation and moderate thinking

RIYADH: Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque, praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their dedication to the message of Islam.
He commended their promotion of tolerance and moderation, service of Islam, Muslims and the broader Islamic community, and advocation for Islamic world issues in international forums.
In his speech at the Muslim World League meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday, Al-Sudais expressed his gratitude to the grand mufti of the Kingdom, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, for his role in supporting the Islamic Fiqh Council’s mission.
Al-Sudais acknowledged the grand mufti’s efforts in addressing contemporary issues facing Muslims, encouraging inter-civilizational dialogue and promoting the values of tolerance.
He also highlighted the role and contributions of Muslim World League Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa in promoting the values of moderation and inclusivity, encouraging interfaith dialogue and serving the league’s mission.
Al-Sudais praised the Muslim World League’s commitment to fostering moderation and moderate thinking, fulfilling Islam’s mission to spread peace and justice, and encouraging familiarity and cooperation among peoples.
He acknowledged the league’s efforts in organizing international conferences and awareness programs, and its role in combating religious extremism.
Al-Sudais highlighted the importance of combating misguided ideologies and terrorist organizations, focusing on the youth, supporting Islamic minorities, combating fanaticism, factionalism and moral decay, and upholding the values of tolerance and moderation.


Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience

Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience
Updated 1 min 33 sec ago
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Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience

Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience
  • The 3-day event explores new opportunities for Hajj and Umrah services

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the Pilgrim Experience Program, organized the inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum at the King Salman International Convention Center in Madinah.

The three-day event, taking place from April 22-24, is being held under the patronage of Prince Salman bin Sultan, the governor of the Madinah region.

Prince Salman said that the leadership has prioritized the enhancement of Hajj and Umrah services during the prosperous era of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He said: “The great honor bestowed by God on this country is a source of pride for all of us and motivates us to improve the level of services provided to the guests of God, to search for ideas, and to conduct studies that would advance the Umrah and visit sector.”

Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and Governor of Madinah region Prince Salman bin Sultan attend the Umrah and Ziyarah Forum in Madinah. (SPA)

The forum is an opportunity for specialists to communicate and exchange experiences during dialogue sessions and discussion panels, and to develop recommendations that contribute to enriching visitors’ experience, he added.

He also expressed hope that the forum would yield positive outcomes and thanked the minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, as well as the ministry’s employees, for organizing the forum.

Prince Salman visited the exhibition held in parallel with the forum. It houses more than 100 pavilions showcasing the services offered by tourism and travel companies, Umrah agencies, academic and research institutions, small and medium enterprises and service developers, as well as companies from related sectors such as hospitality, catering, transportation, healthcare, technology, communications, artificial intelligence, banking and insurance.

A documentary about Madinah, an essential component of the Umrah experience, was screened at the forum.

A group of experts and specialists attended, with discussions focused on enriching the Umrah and Hajj experience and aligning with the goals of Vision 2030.

Al-Rabiah also delivered a speech at the forum, highlighting the special attention given by the leadership to the Two Holy Mosques and visitors to the sites.

One of the most important factors in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, Al-Rabiah said, is the Pilgrim Experience Program, as the Two Holy Mosques are expected to witness the influx of millions of worshippers and visitors, requiring management by security personnel from the Ministry of Interior, and from the General Authority for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.

One of the program’s primary goals, he added, is to enrich the visitors’ experience. The forum serves as a comprehensive platform where 180 speakers from the Kingdom and abroad can discuss strategies to improve the experience.

Al-Rabiah highlighted the involvement of 28 government entities and more than 3,000 local and international companies, with more than 1,500 agreements expected to be signed over the course of the event.

Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and Governor of Madinah region Prince Salman bin Sultan attend the Umrah and Ziyarah Forum in Madinah. (SPA)

He noted that visits were made to 24 countries to address challenges faced by pilgrims and visitors, and to introduce them to the facilities provided by the Kingdom.

Al-Rabiah said that over the past two years, more than 19 million people have visited Al-Rawda Al-Sharifa, along with a significant number of unique historical sites connected to the life of the Prophet Muhammad in Makkah and Madinah, with many of the historical sites having been rehabilitated.

He highlighted the ministry’s commitment to providing quality services throughout pilgrim journeys, describing the Grand Mosque as a globally significant destination. Additionally, he announced the launch of the 1966 contact center in nine languages for pilgrim inquiries, catering to both domestic and international audiences.

Fahd bin Mayouf Al-Ruwaili, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to France and Monaco, and the permanent representative of the Kingdom to UNESCO, also gave a speech highlighting the role of historical and cultural sites in enriching the visitor experience.

During his address, Al-Ruwaili referenced remarks made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the previous Hajj season, emphasizing the Kingdom’s honor in serving the Two Holy Mosques and making it a top priority.

The crown prince’s comments demonstrate the Kingdom’s leadership goals toward serving pilgrims, enabling them to perform their worship rituals and achieve the purposes of Hajj, Umrah, or visitation with ease and peace of mind, he added.

The Umrah and Ziyarah Forum in Madinah is taking place from April 22-24. (SPA)

Four significant agreements were signed during the opening ceremony.

The first, between the General Authority for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and Nusuk, aimed to establish and operate an awareness center for pilgrims.

The second, with the Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz Charitable Foundation, created a fund of SR100 million ($26 million) for water supply.

The third agreement, between the General Authority for Awqaf and the Madinah Region Development Authority, focused on repairing and renovating water facilities at the Meeqat of Dhul-Hulayfah.

The fourth agreement, between the General Authority for Awqaf and the Taybah Mosques Association, addressed support for the Quba Mosque’s needs.

The forum consists of six dialogue sessions and 24 workshops, in which 29 experts and specialists will take part. It also includes several competitions, including the Artificial Intelligence Competition in Umrah and a hackathon on historical sites related to the Prophet Muhammad’s life.


Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum

Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum
Updated 47 min 1 sec ago
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Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum

Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum
  • Forum will be held in Riyadh on May 6 and aims to unify national efforts, align energies, and foster collaboration across various sectors, including public, private, and nonprofit
  • Forum will address the complexities of nursery development, international afforestation initiatives, and the challenges confronting seed banks

RIYADH: The National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification is organizing the first National Afforestation Forum with the theme “Toward a Green Future.”

The forum will be held in Riyadh on May 6 and aims to unify national efforts, align energies, and foster collaboration across various sectors, including public, private, and nonprofit.

According to the Saudi Press Agency report, one of its key objectives is to support the Saudi Green Initiative’s ambitious target of planting 10 billion trees.

The forum is designed to involve stakeholders from various sectors, including experts, environmental enthusiasts, and the general public, aiming to raise awareness of the National Afforestation Program.

It aims to showcase successful models, encourage participation, highlight investment opportunities, and explore the latest developments in the sector. It also seeks to organize community engagement across all segments to achieve ambitious national environmental objectives.

The forum explores a range of pivotal themes through interactive sessions aimed at supporting national efforts to promote vegetation cover and expand green areas. These sessions include an in-depth examination of the various benefits of the National Afforestation Program, such as environmental sustainability, economic growth, and investment opportunities.

Additionally, there is an emphasis on harnessing nature-centric solutions for vegetation growth, along with discussions about current and future afforestation initiatives across various sectors within the Kingdom, the SPA reported.

Moreover, the forum will address the complexities of nursery development, international afforestation initiatives, and the challenges confronting seed banks. It will also explore strategies to improve nursery standards and optimize plant quality to support a variety of projects.


Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 

Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 
Updated 23 April 2024
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Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 

Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 
  • Used as resting spots, mark water sources for Bedouins, travelers
  • Some documented including for Hajj route from Kufa to Makkah 

RIYADH: Cairns, known as “rjum” in Arabic, are more than just heaps of stones scattered throughout the desert but have served as important landmarks and silent guides for Bedouins and travelers through the years, and will continue to do so, according to a local heritage researcher and archeologist. 

Shaped as pyramidal or circular heaps of stones, cairns mark valleys, ravines and deserts across the region. Their strategic placement atop hills or elevated ground provides a vantage point for hidden landscapes, said Abdulrahman Mohammed Al-Tuwayjiri, from the Rafha governorate, in an interview published by the Saudi Press Agency on Tuesday.

Bedouins revere cairns, which aid in visual exploration and have served as places of contemplation for lovers and poets over the years, said Al-Tuwayjiri.

Each cairn has its unique features, with some bearing names, possibly attributed to their builders or reflective of specific geographical locations. The care and preservation of cairns remain a priority for the Bedouin community, ensuring that their legacy endures for generations to come. 

Al-Tuwayjiri said these landmarks are constructed using stones of varying sizes with diameter, as well as height, between 2 and 3 meters. However, over time many have deteriorated and now measure about 1 to 2 meters in height. Some cairns have become mere piles of fallen stones along the roadside.

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Al-Harbi, an early geographer, documented the landmarks and mile markers that guided Hajj pilgrims from Kufa to Makkah. These landmarks were spaced approximately 2 km apart, with closer intervals at road intersections and divergences to ensure that travelers maintained their direction.

Cairns were typically built on natural hills and elevations to ensure they were visible from a distance.

Cairns serve a variety of purposes beyond just guiding travelers. These silent stone structures are often designated resting areas for weary explorers on long journeys, function as gathering points for nomadic tribes, and can indicate the presence of water.


Saudi Arabia braced for heavy rainfall, Civil Defense issues warning

Saudi Arabia braced for heavy rainfall, Civil Defense issues warning
Updated 23 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia braced for heavy rainfall, Civil Defense issues warning

Saudi Arabia braced for heavy rainfall, Civil Defense issues warning
  • NCM forecasts higher than average figures for rain in May

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to receive more rainfall toward the weekend, with Riyadh and its outskirts likely to witness heavy rains from Friday to next Tuesday.

In addition, the National Center for Meteorology said on Tuesday: “May forecasts indicate a chance of higher than average rainfall.”

More rain is forecast this week in Makkah, Jazan, Aseer, Al-Baha, the Eastern Province, and regions in Riyadh, the NCM added.

Makkah and the surrounding areas are set to experience heavy showers, while Riyadh, Wadi Al-Dawasir, and Al-Sulayil will receive medium rainfall.

Southern regions like Jizan, Najran, Asir, and Al-Baha will be impacted by medium to heavy rainfall, with Jizan and Asir expected to receive torrential rain and strong winds.

Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Civil Defense has issued weather warnings and safety instructions.

Its message, which has been sent to residents, said: “Forecasts from the NCM indicate that there will be moderate to heavy rainfall in the Riyadh region (Riyadh, Diriyah, Muzahmiyah, Al-Harij, Al-Kharj, Hotat Bani Tamim, Al-Majmaah, Thadiq, Marat, Al-Ghat, Al-Zulfi, Shaqraa, and Huraymila).

“The Civil Defense calls on everyone to take caution and adhere to its instructions. May God make it rain of goodness and blessings and spread it to benefit all parts of the country. Your cooperation and your safety is our goal.”

The NCM has also warned of high-speed winds that may cause sandstorms, further complicating the situation. Consequently, the Civil Defense has urged the public to stay at home during the severe weather and avoid going to valleys and waterlogged areas, while adhering to all safety directives.

The UAE, Oman, and Bahrain were hit by heavy storms last week that saw unprecedented levels of rainfall.

The UAE experienced its highest-ever rainfall in a 24-hour period since climate data records began in 1949.