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Arabian Oryx Sanctuary

Arabian Oryx Sanctuary

The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary is an area within the Central Desert and Coastal Hills biogeographical regions of Oman. Seasonal fogs and dews support a unique desert ecosystem whose diverse flora includes several endemic plants. Its rare fauna includes the first free-ranging herd of Arabian oryx since the global extinction of the species in the wild in 1972 and its reintroduction here in 1982. The only wild breeding sites in Arabia of the endangered houbara bustard, a species of wader, are also to be found, as well as Nubian ibex, Arabian wolves, honey badgers, caracals and the largest wild population of Arabian gazelle.

Sanctuaire de l'oryx arabe

Le sanctuaire de l'oryx arabe est situé dans les régions biogéographiques du désert central et des collines côtières d'Oman. Les brouillards saisonniers et la rosée constituent un écosystème désertique unique et sa flore compte plusieurs plantes endémiques. Sa faune rare comprend le premier troupeau d'oryx arabes en liberté depuis l'extinction mondiale de l'espèce à l'état sauvage en 1972 et sa réintroduction ici en 1982. On y trouve également les seuls sites de reproduction en liberté de l'outarde houbara, une espèce d'échassier, ainsi que des bouquetins, des loups d'Arabie, des ratels, des caracals et la plus grande population de gazelles d'Arabie en liberté.

Santuario del Oryx árabe

source: UNESCO/ERI

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The World Heritage Committee deleted the property because of Oman's decision to reduce the size of the protected area by 90%, in contravention of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention. This was seen by the Committee as destroying the outstanding universal value of the site which was inscribed in 1994.

In 1996, the population of the Arabian Oryx in the site, was at 450 but it has since dwindled to 65 with only about four breeding pairs making its future viability uncertain. This decline is due to poaching and habitat degradation.

After extensive consultation with the State Party, the Committee felt that the unilateral reduction in the size of the Sanctuary and plans to proceed with hydrocarbon prospection would destroy the value and integrity of the property, which is also home to other endangered species including, the Arabian Gazelle and houbara bustard.

Long Description

The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary is located in the central region of Oman, and is a plateau at an altitude of l00-150 m. The nearest large settlement is Haima to the west. In the south-west are the Rima and Marmul centres of oil extraction. The eastern and southern borders of the property lie on the shoreline of the Arabian Sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean. The site is surrounded to the north by the Hajar Mountains and to the south by the Dhofar Mountains. Plant biomass is very low, plant growth being largely dependant on localized sand accumulation and rock fissures and the shallow drainage patterns of the surface, and nourished by for moisture and dew. The greater part of the site is sparsely vegetated, with small trees and dwarf shrubs growing in haylah depressions which develop after rain. This semi-desert vegetation is utilized by the wildlife especially after rains and in the cool season. Very extensive woodlands of Acacia tortilis and Prosopis cineraria can be found growing near the large wadis on the southern borders of Jiddat al Harasis. Many of these trees, which evidently extend their root system down to the water table, are very old; a significant number of them are dead or dying and very few young trees exist to replace them. Lichen grows on dead tree branches, sustained by the mist or fog moisture. The high humidity caused by the fog probably also accounts for the abundance of trees.

The fauna of the region is typical of the Arabian Peninsula. Some of the most frequent predators are the red fox and Ruppell's sand fox. The other main carnivores that live in the site include caracal and Arabian wolf, which is occasionally reported. The wolf was formerly a serious predator of livestock in the region. They now survive in the broken country of the Huquf, the southern wadis and the Janabah Hills. Wild cat and ratel have been reported but may no longer exist. Hares and common rodents are found throughout the area. The most numerous large herbivores are the Arabian mountain gazelle, which inhabits the whole site, and the sand gazelle. A small but viable population of Nubian ibex lives on the Huquf escarpment, the Janabah Hills and the headlands between Ra's Duqm and Ra's Madrakah.

The Arabian oryx, which has been reintroduced into the region, is the largest indigenous mammal species inhabiting the site. Indigenous reptiles include grey monitor lizard and spiny-tailed lizard, two smaller species of the genus, venomous horned and carpet vipers, hooded malpolon, sand snake and cat snake. 168 species of birds were recorded over a six-year period. The coastal beaches and lagoons are the habitat of flocks of resident and migrating waders including gulls, terns, flamingoes and herons, and several species of duck winter on the lagoons. The small saline and brackish springs act as important vegetated oasis areas, attracting a variety of birds and mammals. They are also habitat for a small indigenous fish species.

Very little is known about the history of the site and its adjoining areas, nor of the Harasis tribe that occupies most of the area. The Harasis, a Bedu tribe of 2,500 people, with a traditional language that belongs to a pre-Islamic south Arabian group, are presumed to have lived in the area for several centuries, and are pastoral and fishing peoples living in scattered settlements in the coastal regions. Until 1970 the Harasis were nomadic pastoral and who followed the rain and the grazing over a large part of Oman. The areas of the property are occupied mostly by the Bedu Janaba tribe. There are no areas of cultivation, although pastoralism is practised widely by the nomadic Bedu.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC