Restoring ecological balance through conservation of native species

Restoring ecological balance through conservation of native species

Restoring ecological balance through conservation of native species
Over 220 endangered animal species have been reintroduced to the wild in Saudi royal reserves over the past three years. (SPA)
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As we endeavor to rebalance the ecological scales, we find there are no quick fixes for restoring our planet’s health. It cannot be achieved in a day, a month or even a year. It requires the relentless dedication of the brightest of minds and the most passionate of hearts, a tireless spirit, and a commitment to long-term goals.

Regeneration is a slow process and the time to act is now. This principle of immediate action to safeguard and rejuvenate flora and fauna underpins the ecological regeneration initiatives underway in AlUla, and across Saudi Arabia more broadly. In tandem with its evolution as a luxury boutique heritage destination, AlUla has consistently focused on land restoration to reclaim the ecological balance it once had, while ensuring benefits for the local community.

AlUla has set aside 12,500 square kilometers to create six nature reserves: Sharaan, Wadi Nakhlah, Gharameel, Harrat Uwayrid, Harrat AlZabin and Harrat Khaybar. This allocation represents more than 50 percent of the region’s total area. The identification of more than 500 species of flora in AlUla underscores its rich biodiversity and diverse landscapes.

The Kingdom is also actively reintroducing native animal species to their natural habitats, enhancing biodiversity and contributing significantly to the revitalization of AlUla’s ecological cycle. Since 2019, these efforts have been supported by scientific insights and strategic refinements. AlUla monitors animal populations and collects data, adhering to international standards and collaborating with organizations such as Panthera and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to ensure their conservation initiatives are effective and sustainable.

In 2023, the Royal Commission for AlUla achieved a significant milestone with its largest-ever release of about 1,000 animals across three nature reserves. This initiative focused on reintroducing four native herbivore species: Arabian gazelle, sand gazelle, Arabian oryx and Nubian ibex.

By taking decisive action now, AlUla is not just planning for its future as a global destination but is actively securing a brighter, more sustainable future for the planet.

Jose Ferreira

This strategic reintroduction of large herbivores represents a critical step in reconstruction of the ecosystem, setting the stage for the eventual reintroduction of the critically endangered Arabian leopard.

AlUla operates a state-of-the-art breeding center that has enjoyed remarkable success. In 2023, the center celebrated the birth of seven leopard cubs and has effectively doubled the captive-breeding population from 14 to 27 over the past two years. This growth is a hopeful sign for the survival of this majestic species.

This ongoing effort is part of a broader vision for AlUla that aims for holistic and sustainable regeneration. It is an approach that integrates the protection and revival of ancient heritage sites with the development of a vibrant natural habitat. It also ensures that indigenous plants and animals will coexist with new infrastructure such as hotels, homes, schools and community centers.

The exemplary integration of heritage and nature is showcased through AlUla’s Hegra Wildlife and Nature Tour. This safari-style experience allows visitors to immerse themselves in the stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife near Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, illustrating the practical and inspirational reasons behind AlUla’s conservation efforts.

These endeavors are not only about preserving the past but also about shaping a sustainable future, contributing significantly to the goals of Saudi Vision 2030. By taking decisive action now, AlUla is not only planning for its future as a global destination, it is actively securing a brighter, more sustainable future for the planet and all its inhabitants.

Jose Ferreira is the conservation breeding and reintroduction director at the Royal Commission for AlUla, with a principal focus on the Arabian leopard.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view

Investigation of Russian hack on London hospitals may take weeks amid worries over online data dump

Investigation of Russian hack on London hospitals may take weeks amid worries over online data dump
Updated 21 min 57 sec ago
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Investigation of Russian hack on London hospitals may take weeks amid worries over online data dump

Investigation of Russian hack on London hospitals may take weeks amid worries over online data dump
  • Hundreds of operations and appointments are still being canceled more than two weeks after the June 3 attack on NHS provider Synnovis, which provides pathology services primarily in southeast London

LONDON: An investigation into a ransomware attack earlier this month on London hospitals by the Russian group Qilin could take weeks to complete, the country’s state-run National Health Service said Friday, as concerns grow over a reported data dump of patient records.
Hundreds of operations and appointments are still being canceled more than two weeks after the June 3 attack on NHS provider Synnovis, which provides pathology services primarily in southeast London.
The attack affected King’s College and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospital trusts, which run several south London hospitals, as well as clinics and doctors’ practices across a swath of the city. A memo to staff called it a “critical incident” and said it had a “major impact” on services, particularly blood transfusions.
NHS England said Friday that it has been “made aware” that data connected to the attack have been published online. According to the BBC, Qilin shared almost 400GB of data, including patient names, dates of birth and descriptions of blood tests, on their darknet site and Telegram channel.
“The National Crime Agency and National Cyber Security Center are working to verify the data included in the published files as quickly as possible,” NHS England said in a statement. “These files are not simple uploads and so investigations of this nature are highly complex and can take weeks if not longer to complete.”
According to Saturday’s edition of the Guardian newspaper, records covering 300 million patient interactions, including the results of blood tests for HIV and cancer, were stolen during the attack.
A website and helpline has been set up for patients affected.
“We understand the distress this will cause patients who have to re-test,” NHS England said.
The National Crime Agency has confirmed that it is leading the criminal investigation but said it is unable to comment further.
Ransomware involves criminals paralyzing computer systems with malware, then demanding money to release them. Ransomware is the costliest and most disruptive form of cybercrime, affecting local governments, court systems, hospitals and schools as well as businesses. It is difficult to combat as most gangs are based in former Soviet states and out of reach of Western justice.
Britain’s state-funded health system has been hit before, including during a 2017 ransomware attack that froze computers at hospitals across the country, closing down wards, shutting emergency rooms and bringing treatment to a halt.
Qilin, also known as Agenda, advertises on dark web cybercrime forums and leases malware to affiliates who use it to conduct attacks for a percentage of ransom payments, said Louise Ferrett of Searchlight Cyber, a threat intelligence company. The group has listed more than 100 victims.


‘Sacrifice won’t go to waste,’ Pakistan PM says as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

‘Sacrifice won’t go to waste,’ Pakistan PM says as five soldiers killed in IED blast 
Updated 35 min 56 sec ago
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‘Sacrifice won’t go to waste,’ Pakistan PM says as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

‘Sacrifice won’t go to waste,’ Pakistan PM says as five soldiers killed in IED blast 
  • IED blast targeted vehicle carrying security forces in Kurram district in northwestern province
  • Top officials attend funeral of Sepoy Haroon William, Christian soldier who was killed in latest blast 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Saturday the sacrifice of Pakistan army soldiers killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan this week wouldn’t go to waste, as he vowed to continue the South Asian nation’s ‘war against terrorism.’
The IED blast targeted a vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement. 
The blast comes amid a rise in terror attacks mostly claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, an ally of the Afghan Taliban but a separate group, which has stepped up its assaults in the region since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021. Pakistan says the TTP uses Afghan soil to launch attacks in Pakistan, a charge that Kabul denies. 
On Saturday, Sharif and other top government and military officers including the army chief attended the funeral prayers in Islamabad of Sepoy Haroon William, a Christian soldier who was killed in the Kurram IED blast. 
“The army’s history is filled with such sacrifices. In yesterday’s unfortunate incident, Haroon William sacrificed his life for the motherland,” Sharif said as he addressed the funeral service. “Me, army chief and everyone hail their sacrifice for the nation, I believe this sacrifice will not go to waste.”
A day earlier, Sharif had vowed to continue “the war against the menace [of terrorism] till its complete elimination.”
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, predominantly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In January 2023 militants killed at least 101 people, mostly police officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar. In another major attack, five Chinese nationals were killed in a suicide bombing on their convoy in March.
Earlier this month, a report by the provincial counter-terrorism department (CTD) said 65 police officials were killed and 86 wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the past five months. Police had killed 117 militants and arrested 299 others in a series of operations, the report added. 
Pakistani authorities often say Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are providing shelter to TTP fighters across the two nations’ shared border. The Afghan Taliban government insists it doesn’t allow anyone to use Afghan soil for violence in another country. The TTP has also said it is not using Afghan soil to target troops in Pakistan.


BRICS countries launch joint tourism roadmap at Moscow forum

BRICS countries launch joint tourism roadmap at Moscow forum
Updated 14 sec ago
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BRICS countries launch joint tourism roadmap at Moscow forum

BRICS countries launch joint tourism roadmap at Moscow forum
  • BRICS accounts for 45 percent of world’s population, 25 percent of global economy
  • New strategy includes increased mobility between the nine countries

MOSCOW: The BRICS group of emerging-market nations has launched a roadmap to boost travel between member nations during the organization’s first tourism forum, which was held in Moscow over the weekend.

The BRICS group — an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — was formed in 2009 as an investment forum. It has since evolved into a geopolitical bloc and in January expanded to include Iran, the UAE, Ethiopia and Egypt.

The group’s leaders meet for annual summits hosted by the member holding its rotating presidency. This year’s chairmanship was taken by Russia.

Over 300 representatives of the industry gathered in Moscow for the BRICS Tourism Forum on Friday as delegates of the nine member countries announced a roadmap for joint policy and investment initiatives, which covers the development of digital tourism solutions, the BRICS green initiative for tourism, and the development of business relations in the sector, which Russian Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said makes up around five percent of the group members’ economies.

“We can say that the BRICS tourism track has been formally launched as of this moment,” Reshetnikov told reporters. “The document will bolster cooperation in the tourism industry’s digitalization and in promoting and increasing tourist exchanges.”

The roadmap was welcomed by the Indian Ministry of Tourism.

“This is a great achievement, the first of its kind, and now the countries will work together in a certain manner through the roadmap,” Niraj Sharan, assistant director general at the ministry, told Arab News.

“In the future, more and more tourists will move within BRICS nations. It will be easy to go around, easing travel formalities, each country will facilitate member countries’ citizens, there will be cooperation between the hospitality sectors, and the countries will invest in each other’s firms.”

India is already offering e-visas to most of the BRICS nations.

“India is aiming at a better partnership, coordination and cohesion among all the BRICS nations — better facilities, easy movement of tourists, better exchanges for tourism sectors, tourism stakeholders, enhancing investment in each other’s countries,” Sharan said.

Amr El-Kadi, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said: “The BRICS Tourism Forum is significant, it’s opening up new territories. It’s a golden opportunity, where we can all work (together) within BRICS to increase intra-tourism.

“We have another major program to promote Egypt in India. We are working hard with the Indian embassy in Cairo to do a lot,” he continued. “We have a joint working team between both countries to know exactly how and where to promote tourism both ways. So, we have very ambitious plans.”

BRICS nations have a combined population of about 45 percent of the world’s inhabitants and account for some 25 percent of the global economy.

Since last year, 40 countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and Pakistan, have reportedly expressed interest in becoming members of the BRICS bloc, which aims to represent the Global South and provide an alternative model to the Western-dominated G7 — the most advanced economies comprising Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Canada, and the US.


BRICS countries launch tourism cooperation roadmap at Moscow forum

BRICS countries launch tourism cooperation roadmap at Moscow forum
Updated 49 min 17 sec ago
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BRICS countries launch tourism cooperation roadmap at Moscow forum

BRICS countries launch tourism cooperation roadmap at Moscow forum
  • BRICS accounts for 45 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the global economy
  • New roadmap includes increased mobility between the nine countries and mutual investments

MOSCOW: BRICS countries on Friday launched a tourism cooperation roadmap during the intergovernmental organization’s first tourism forum held in Moscow, with top officials calling it a “great achievement” toward easing travel formalities and boosting cooperation among the hospitality sectors of the grouping of emerging-market nations. 

The BRICS group — the acronym stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — was formed in 2009 as an investment forum and has since evolved into a geopolitical bloc. In January, the group expanded its membership to include Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Egypt.

The group’s leaders meet for annual summits hosted by the members holding its rotating presidency. This year’s chairmanship was taken by Russia, which for the first time in the bloc’s history held a forum dedicated to tourism.

Over 300 representatives of the industry gathered in Moscow on Friday for the BRICS Tourism Forum, where delegates of the nine member countries announced a roadmap on joint policy and investment initiatives.

“We can say that the BRICS tourism track has been formally launched as of this moment,” Russian Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov told reporters.

“The document will bolster cooperation in the tourism industry’s digitalization and in promoting and increasing tourist exchanges.”

It included developing digital tourism solutions, a BRICS green initiative for tourism, and business relations in the sector, which Reshetnikov said contributes about five percent to the group’s member economies.

The roadmap was welcomed by the Indian Ministry of Tourism.

“This is a great achievement, first of its kind, and now the countries will work together in a certain manner or through the roadmap,” Niraj Sharan, assistant director general at the ministry, told Arab News on the sidelines of the forum.

“In the future, more and more tourists will move within BRICS nations. It will be easy to go around, easing travel formalities, each country will facilitate member countries’ citizens, there will be cooperation among the hospitality sectors, and the countries will be investing in each other’s firms.”

India is already offering e-visas to most of the BRICS nations.

“India is aiming at a better partnership, coordination and cohesion among all the BRICS nations, better facilities, easy movement of tourists, better exchanges for tourism sectors, tourism stakeholders, enhancing investment in each other’s countries,” Sharan said.

BRICS nations have a combined population of about 45 percent of the world’s inhabitants and account for some 25 percent of the global economy.

Since last year, 40 countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and Pakistan, have expressed interest in becoming members of the bloc, which tries to represent the Global South and provide an alternative model to the Western-dominated G7 — the most advanced economies comprising Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US.

Egypt, a new member of the bloc, said the roadmap was an opportunity to benefit from linkages with some of the world’s most populous countries.

“The BRICS Tourism Forum is significant, it’s opening up to new territories ... It’s a golden opportunity, where you all have to work on the development and improvement, and work between the nations within the BRICS to increase intra-tourism,” said Amr El-Kadi, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

“We are having another big-scale program to promote Egypt in India. We are working hard with the Indian embassy in Cairo to do a lot. We have a joint working team between both countries to know exactly how and where and where to promote tourism both ways. So, we have very ambitious plans for us.”


Anger after fireworks trigger Greek forest fire

Anger after fireworks trigger Greek forest fire
Updated 48 min 57 sec ago
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Anger after fireworks trigger Greek forest fire

Anger after fireworks trigger Greek forest fire
  • Greece has recently toughened penalties for arson, with perpetrators now facing up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 euros

ATHENS: A forest fire on the Greek tourist island of Hydra, near Athens, was started by fireworks launched from a yacht, firefighters said Saturday, sparking widespread anger.
The fire, which started on Friday evening, has been brought under control, authorities said.
The blaze was “caused by a fireworks launched from a boat and burned the only pine forest on the island in a place that is difficult to access and has no road,” said the island’s seasonal firefighting team on Facebook.
The mayor of the island, Giorgos Koukoudakis, told public television channel ERT that he was “outraged that certain people are starting fires in such an irresponsible manner.”
The news also sparked fury on social media.
Greece has recently toughened penalties for arson, with perpetrators now facing up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 euros.
The country has been bracing for a particularly difficult summer as authorities warned that strong winds and high temperatures mean there was a “very high risk” of forest fires.
The Mediterranean country recorded its first heatwave of the year last week with temperatures passing more than 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in some locations.
Greek firefighters on Friday battled wildfires fanned by three days of fierce winds that left at least one person dead.
Last year, a fierce two-week heatwave was followed by devastating wildfires in which 20 people died.
Scientists warn that fossil fuel emissions caused by humans are worsening the length and intensity of heatwaves around the world.
Rising temperatures are leading to extended wildfire seasons and increasing the area burnt by the blazes, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.