How sustainable tourism can help preserve Saudi Arabia’s iconic desert wildlife 

Special How sustainable tourism can help preserve Saudi Arabia’s iconic desert wildlife 
White Oryxes in the Arabian Desert. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 04 May 2024
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How sustainable tourism can help preserve Saudi Arabia’s iconic desert wildlife 

How sustainable tourism can help preserve Saudi Arabia’s iconic desert wildlife 
  • With desert tourism on the rise, experts say visitors and developers have a responsibility to respect local fauna  
  • The deserts of Saudi Arabia are home to more than 4,000 animal species, many of them critically endangered

ALULA: Although Saudi Arabia is home to a wealth of ecosystems, from its coastal mangroves and coral reefs to its high-altitude forests and lush oases, the Kingdom is perhaps best known for its deserts.

However, these landscapes, which are fast becoming popular with outdoor adventurers, are home to a remarkable array of animals, which inhabited the region long before the arrival of humans.

Despite the hardiness of these animals, given the harshness of their environment, the encroachment of humans into these pristine habitats is raising concerns among conservationists.

“The rapid growth in tourist flows in recent decades has been accompanied by diversification, both geographically, and in terms of tourism segments or products,” Basmah Al-Mayman, Middle East regional director of the UN Tourism (formerly UN World Tourism Organization), told Arab News. 

“Desert destinations have shared in the benefits of this double-diversification process, making it an even more pressing priority to define a sustainable approach to tourism development in desert areas.”

As a Saudi national herself, Al-Mayman recognizes the value of the Kingdom’s precious ecosystems as a source of revenue and national pride. However, she believes the tourism industry, developers, and travelers themselves have a responsibility to act sustainably.

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“In the desert, more than anywhere, with destinations still relatively untouched by the adverse effects tourism can bring, sustainability represents a particularly critical challenge,” she said.

“The messages conveyed by UN Tourism are not only preventive in character, but also offer stakeholders at international as well as local levels the advice and tools they need to combat poverty and desertification while enabling tourism to properly play its role as a vehicle for development.”




The Nubian ibex isnow among the wildlife of Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

According to UN Tourism, sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development. A balance must be established between these dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.

Sustainable tourism should therefore make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, while maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.




Falcons are among the most loved wildlife in the Kingdom. (SPA photo)

As the largest country in the Middle East, occupying more than 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is home to five distinct climatic regions. 

These biomes include coastal fog desert, the southwestern savanna foothills, the southwestern montane woodlands, the Arabian Desert, the Nubo-Sindian tropical desert, and areas of semi-desert.




Ostriches racing at a conservation center in Jeddah. (Supplied)

Extensive hunting in the 19th century resulted in the population decline of many of Saudi Arabia’s indigenous animals, including oryx, leopards, and cheetahs. The Kingdom has since imposed bans on poaching and launched breeding programs to help bolster populations.

Other wildlife found in these habitats included striped hyenas, mongoose, baboons, sand cats, and hopping desert rodents known as jerboa. Visitors willing to brave the region’s harsh temperatures may be rewarded with a glimpse of a Nubian ibex, sand gazelles, or a whole array of reptiles. 




Gazelles restin one of the wildelife conservation centers of Saudi Arabia, safe from predators and hunters. (Shutterstock)

Occupying some 25 percent of Saudi Arabia’s territory, the Rub’ Al-Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter, is anything but what its name might suggest. The world’s biggest sand desert is in fact home to a dizzying array of wildlife.

Likewise, the Kingdom’s scrublands, steppes, mangroves, volcanic fields, palm oases, and mountain ranges are teeming with creatures — nesting, hunting, feeding, and burrowing, many of them out of sight, coming out only in the cool hours of night.

DIDYOU KNOW

• 2024 was designated the Year of the Camel by the UN and Saudi Ministry of Culture.

• AlUla has made great strides in ensuring that desert tourism is eco-friendly.

• UN Tourism has put forth structured targets to support sustainable desert tourism.

• National Center for Wildlife estimates there are 4,481 endangered species in the Kingdom.

No desert animal is perhaps better recognized than the camel. It is because of its iconic status that the UN and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has designated 2024 as the “Year of the Camel.”

This year, Saudi Arabia will host several camel-centric events and organize special spaces to educate the public about these much-loved “ships of the desert.”

Just this past week, the second ever AlUla Camel Cup was celebrated in the Kingdom’s ancient northwestern region. The four-day event centered on the animal, which has become synonymous with the country’s identity. 




The camel has been the Bedouin’s best friend for centuries, as well as a loyal companion and a lifeline. (Shutterstock)

The camel has been the Bedouin’s best friend for centuries, as well as a loyal companion and a lifeline. Even the Prophet Muhammad relied on camels for transportation and as a source of food and fuel.

Camels are not the only animals getting their moment in the limelight. Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife and the Saudi Green Initiative have been working hard to ensure none of the Kingdom’s fauna is overlooked.

Assigning an animal to be championed during a specific year, month, or day has been instrumental in raising awareness about the wellbeing and conservation of the region’s distinctive species.

In 2022, the Royal Commission for AlUla launched a campaign for the recognition of “International Arabian Leopard Day.” In 2023, the UN General Assembly unanimously designated Feb. 10 as the “International Day of the Arabian Leopard.”




Facing extinction, the Arabian leopard is one of the wildlife species at the center of the Kingdom's animal conservation program. (Royal Commission of AlUla photo)

The Arabian leopard once enjoyed a range stretching across a large swathe of the Arabian Peninsula, from southern Jordan to Yemen. 

But, after years of human encroachment on its habitat, resulting in the depletion of its natural prey, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the big cat as a critically endangered species.

Saudi Arabia has long been at the forefront of animal conservation, with the Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammad Royal Reserve Development Authority reintroducing more than 220 endangered species into the wild in the Kingdom’s royal reserves over the past five seasons. 




More than 220 endangered animal species have been reintroduced to the wild in Saudi royal reserves over the past three years. (SPA)

Much of this has been done in tandem with sustainable tourism initiatives, designed to protect the Kingdom’s ecosystems, while providing jobs, services, and prosperity to local communities.

For instance, in the ancient deserts of northwest Saudi Arabia, framed by curious rock formations with their dramatic silhouettes, the lush green oasis of AlUla has been continuously occupied by humans since before the 12th century.

Throughout that time, animals have been vital to the area and to the livelihoods of its human residents.

In line with Saudi Vision 2030, the Royal Commission for AlUla has launched an initiative to rehabilitate 65,000 hectares of degraded land, activating the space and resurrecting the harmony between humans and nature — an organic partnership that has defined the region for millennia.




The lush green oasis of AlUla has been continuously occupied by humans since before the 12th century. (RCU photo)

Besides AlUla, nearly every other desert space in the Kingdom has introduced curated tours that mindfully lead humans into the wilderness with the intention of enjoying, honoring, and respecting the animals that live there. 

The Kingdom has made significant strides in ensuring that its animals continue to flourish in a rapidly changing world and a nation that aims to become a major tourism magnet in the years to come.

But with more people, vehicles, and infrastructure coming to the desert, it is a collective responsibility to ensure visitors do so without disturbing these precious ecosystems and their animal inhabitants.
 

 

Rewilding Arabia
Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife

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Hajj pilgrims innovate for comfort amid Saudi Arabia’s efforts to beat the heat

Hajj pilgrims innovate for comfort amid Saudi Arabia’s efforts to beat the heat
Updated 10 sec ago
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Hajj pilgrims innovate for comfort amid Saudi Arabia’s efforts to beat the heat

Hajj pilgrims innovate for comfort amid Saudi Arabia’s efforts to beat the heat
  • Portable fans, personal water sprinklers among useful aids in scorching conditions

ARAFAT: Pilgrims have remained inventive in their quest for comfort, despite Saudi Arabia’s diligent efforts to mitigate the sweltering heat at the holy sites.

Alongside the Kingdom’s measures — which include extensive cooling systems — pilgrims are using rechargeable and battery-powered neck and handheld fans in their determination to offset the challenging conditions brought by the summer.

A sprinkler system comprising more than 8,000  water posts has been installed at the holy sites to mitigate the high temperatures. (SPA)

The portable fans provide much-needed relief by offering personal cooling in crowded areas where air circulation may be limited. They allow pilgrims to maintain comfort and focus on their religious duties without being overly affected by the extreme temperatures, thereby enhancing their overall pilgrimage experience.

According to online retail websites, the hands-free fans range from $4 to $8, while neck fans are between $32 to $60. However, some portable waist clip fans may cost from $30 to more than $110.

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230k

Managed by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, the sprinkler system at the holy sites disperses 230,000 cubic meters of water through a pipe network spanning over 190,000 meters.

In accordance with the Health Ministry’s warnings and instructions, many pilgrims are also being observed using small water sprinklers to cool themselves amid the high temperatures.

A sprinkler system comprising more than 8,000  water posts has been installed at the holy sites to mitigate the high temperatures. (SPA)

A report by the National Center for Meteorology noted that temperatures reached 46 C in Arafat on Saturday. In anticipation of such conditions, a massive water sprinkler system had been installed to reduce heat and refresh the air for pilgrims.

Saleh Al-Sufiyani, a Saudi pilgrim from Taif, said that he was aware of the weather conditions in Makkah and purchased a cooling gadget for SR150 (approximately $40).

Pilgrims are using rechargeable and battery-powered neck and handheld fans in their determination to offset the challenging conditions brought by the summer. (SPA)

He added: “The device provides direct airflow to my neck and face, which are sensitive areas for cooling the body. It helps me feel more comfortable as it reduces the sensation of heat.”

Maryam Jadallah, an Egyptian pilgrim, said that she had bought her portable battery-powered fan from Jeddah after learning about the high temperatures in Makkah.

Water is sprayed on Muslim pilgrims at the rocky hill known as the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabi, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP)

She added: “The fan operates quietly, allowing me to hear everything around me without disturbing my supplications.”

She stressed that cooling the body during hot weather can help prevent heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Volunteers spray water on Muslim pilgrims during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AN photo by Huda Bashattah)

She said that despite having her fan with her, she often kept it off as fans and water sprinklers were installed everywhere to help the pilgrims stay cool.  

According to Kidana Development Company, a substantial sprinkler system comprising more than 8,000 water posts has been installed at the holy sites to mitigate the high temperatures.

Despite Saudi Arabia's diligent efforts to mitigate the sweltering heat in the holy sites, pilgrims remained inventive in their quest for comfort. (AN photo by Huda Bashattah)

Managed by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, the system disperses 230,000 cubic meters of water through a pipe network spanning over 190,000 meters. It will operate for 15 hours daily across a span of 13 days.

A recent study published by King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre revealed that heat-related deaths and strokes during Hajj have fallen by 47.6 and 74.6 percent respectively over a 40-year period because of the interventions by the Kingdom’s government.

 


Hajj — a profound journey connecting global Muslims

Pilgrims learn the importance of social solidarity through sharing food and mutual assistance in performing the rituals. (SPA)
Pilgrims learn the importance of social solidarity through sharing food and mutual assistance in performing the rituals. (SPA)
Updated 47 sec ago
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Hajj — a profound journey connecting global Muslims

Pilgrims learn the importance of social solidarity through sharing food and mutual assistance in performing the rituals. (SPA)
  • Pilgrimage unites languages and cultures, building a bridge to the world

MAKKAH: Each Hajj season, Muslims from all over the world, representing diverse languages, cultures and traditions, gather in the holy cities.

Beyond its religious significance, the pilgrimage offers a platform for cultural engagement among worshippers, displaying the rich cultural tapestry of the global Muslim community.

The cultural diversity is evident not only in the pilgrims’ traditional attire, but also in the variety of languages that can be heard throughout Makkah’s neighborhoods, in the Grand Mosque and the roads leading to it, as well as on public transportation.

Muslim pilgrims arrive to perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual as part of the hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, on June 16, 2024. (AFP)

Fawaz Al-Dahas, a history professor at Umm Al-Qura University, emphasized the understanding and solidarity of Muslims who gather for one purpose: to perform Hajj.

Despite their different languages and cultural backgrounds, pilgrims strive for understanding, harmony and kindness with each other to ensure their pilgrimage is accepted and their efforts are not in vain, he said.

“The cultural exchange during Hajj is a unique and enriching opportunity. Pilgrims learn about the customs and traditions of other countries, opening new horizons and deepening knowledge,” Al-Dahas said, adding that this leads to greater respect and deeper understanding among people from different backgrounds.

Muslim pilgrims walk at Mount of Mercy on the plain of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 15, 2024. (REUTERS)

“Hajj promotes the concept of one nation, where all pilgrims are equal, regardless of race or nationality,” Al-Dahas said.

“Wearing the ihram, all pilgrims feel a sense of equality and belonging to a single community, fostering peaceful coexistence. This experience teaches patience, tolerance and cooperation during the performance of the rituals, further strengthening the spirit of understanding and coexistence among Muslims after they return home.”

Hajj also promotes collaboration among Islamic nations in areas such as health, security, and logistics, as governments work together to ensure pilgrims’ safety and comfort, he added. This cooperation promotes brotherly relations and solidarity.

Pilgrims learn the importance of social solidarity through sharing food and mutual assistance in performing the rituals. (SPA)

Through this annual event, Muslims bridge cultural and geographical divides. Hajj highlights the value of interaction between peoples and nations, demonstrating how diversity can be a strength in society.

Rania Shawdary, a mutawif (guide for the pilgrims), said: “Hajj is a significant annual event that reflects the Kingdom’s substantial efforts in serving pilgrims from around the world. Pilgrims witness firsthand the extensive services and facilities provided, which encourages them to cooperate and participate and observe everyone working together for the success of this great ritual for Muslims.”

She highlighted the generosity and hospitality, with pilgrims from different parts of the world receiving free services, such as water, food and housing.

Muslim pilgrims pray at dawn on Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage on June 15, 2024. (AFP)

Pilgrims learn the importance of social solidarity through sharing food and mutual assistance in performing the rituals, thereby enhancing the spirit of solidarity and brotherhood, Shawdary said.

“The shared challenges and difficulties faced during their journey prompt pilgrims to assist each other and cooperate, helping them put aside their differences.”

Majid Al-Mufadhli, a Saudi journalist who has covered Hajj events for years, said that media plays a significant role in conveying the Hajj experience to the world.

“This helps promote understanding and communication between different cultures, as media coverage of Hajj events and pilgrim stories and experiences raises awareness of Hajj’s importance and its role in uniting Muslims,” he said.

Social media platforms also enhance communication among pilgrims, their families and friends, as well as between worshippers themselves, facilitating the exchange of experiences and cultures and promoting understanding, Al-Mufadhli added.

“Pilgrims face significant challenges related to crowd management, joint work and adhering to plans set by the responsible authorities, which drives them to cooperate and harmonize with each other to perform the rituals with comfort and ease,” he said.

The pilgrimage also represents an opportunity for innovation in areas such as crowd management, health and transportation technology, utilizing modern technologies to ensure safety and comfort. The atmosphere of cooperation shows the world that Muslims are an organized and compassionate community, capable of adapting to ensure the safety and comfort of all.

“Hajj is an opportunity and an extraordinary gathering that unites languages and cultures. Through participating in this great event, pilgrims learn the values of generosity, hospitality, love and brotherhood, returning home with a new spirit of unity and cooperation,” Al-Mufadhli said.

 


Saudi Arabia’s advanced measures ensured a successful season for pilgrims, says chairman of the Hajj Security Committee

Saudi Arabia’s advanced measures ensured a successful season for pilgrims, says chairman of the Hajj Security Committee
Updated 53 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s advanced measures ensured a successful season for pilgrims, says chairman of the Hajj Security Committee

Saudi Arabia’s advanced measures ensured a successful season for pilgrims, says chairman of the Hajj Security Committee
  • Address to military sectors emphasizes commitment to high-quality services

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s precise execution of security measures has been pivotal to the success of this year’s Hajj season, according to Lt. Gen. Mohammad bin Abdullah Al-Bassami, director of Public Security and chairman of the Hajj Security Committee.

In an address to the military sectors involved in the Hajj season on Sunday, Al-Bassami emphasized the directives from the Kingdom’s leadership and the commitment to delivering high-quality services to the pilgrims as key elements of the success.

He highlighted the Kingdom’s concerted efforts in utilizing all available human and mechanical resources alongside modern technological advancements. This had streamlined Hajj operations, enhancing the services provided to pilgrims, saving time and effort and improving overall service quality.

Al-Bassami noted that Public Security had effectively implemented artificial intelligence for crowd management at the holy sites. The technology had been instrumental in ensuring the safety and security of pilgrims, supported by modern equipment and the dissemination of awareness messages.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received well-wishers on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha at Mina Palace on Sunday where he also praised the various organizations involved in the success of Hajj.
 


Saudi Arabia’s weqaa initiative continues in Eastern Province

Saudi Arabia’s weqaa initiative continues in Eastern Province
Updated 7 min 13 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s weqaa initiative continues in Eastern Province

Saudi Arabia’s weqaa initiative continues in Eastern Province
  • This initiative is being implemented at points of sale, slaughterhouses, barns, and public roads in the region.

DAMMAM: The Saudi National Center for the Prevention and Control of Plant Pests and Animal Diseases is continuing its campaign — called Weqaa Takes Care of Your Sacrifice — in the Eastern Province.

This initiative is being implemented at points of sale, slaughterhouses, barns, and public roads in the region.

Mubarak Al-Aridi, Weqaa’s director general in the region, said that animal health department field teams were serving citizens and residents who wished to visit points of sale and slaughterhouses.

Al-Aridi added: “Weqaa’s branch in the region has a crucial role in using the campaign to educate citizens and residents on the purpose of raising awareness of the importance of vaccinating livestock using the best health practices; conducting control and inspection of livestock to ensure their safety from any epidemic diseases; providing breeders with veterinary health guides; and educating citizens and residents on the most important health and legal requirements taken into account when choosing an animal to sacrifice.”

 

 


Saudi medical team performs brain surgery on Turkish pilgrim

Saudi medical team performs brain surgery on Turkish pilgrim
Updated 31 min 7 sec ago
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Saudi medical team performs brain surgery on Turkish pilgrim

Saudi medical team performs brain surgery on Turkish pilgrim
  • 70-year-old Turkish female Hajj pilgrim suffered a hemorrhage

RIYADH: A Saudi medical team from the neurosciences center at King Abdullah Medical City performed a complex brain operation on a 70-year-old Turkish female Hajj pilgrim who had suffered a hemorrhage, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The team acted quickly to relieve pressure on the woman’s brain, drilling a hole in the skull and inserting a drainage tube.

X-rays identified an arteriovenous malformation in a critical area of the brain, which was treated using advanced medical techniques. There were no complications.

When the patient regained consciousness she was able to be taken off the respirator.

Her health is gradually improving, and plans are being made to allow her to complete Hajj with full medical supervision.