The World Heritage Centre received a copy of the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary Management Plan with a transmission letter by the State Party dated 5 October 2004 as well as a report by the State Party dated 22 February 2005 outlining the progress in implementation of the latter, including regulatory and monitoring measures, staff training and capacity development.
IUCN received information in 2005 indicating that in the past 8-year period (1996 – 2004) over 200 of the original 450 Oryx in the wild were lost to poachers. Reports note that poachers are from the adjacent communities, mainly the coastal regions, and that the illegal traffic is passing through the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) or ultimately ending up there, directly in the hands of private collectors. A few poachers have been apprehended but this has not deterred the practice, which is ongoing. The large area of the sanctuary (2.75 million ha) plus the proliferation of oil industry tracks and four-wheel drive vehicles has made the detection of poachers difficult.
The Management Plan reveals that a new boundary and a zoning system have now been finalized. Under this plan, five zones are recognized: Special protection zone to be used as a refuge for wildlife; Controlled use zone which encompasses tracts of land containing other important biological resources; Buffer zone; Utility zone and Special use zone.
It is planned that the Management Plan will be implemented for a period of five years during which time the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources will map the zones more accurately and propose any necessary refinements. Land use policies and activities to be permitted in the sanctuary are set out according to the zone and sector. The last IUCN mission in 2000 had reported that poaching had been controlled due to increased enforcement and the creation of a regional coordinating body for Arabian Oryx involving UAE, the recent report of continued poaching of Arabian Oryx is discouraging.
The Management Plan demonstrates the State Party’s commitment in establishing a sound management regime for the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (AOS). The use of zones with prescribed activities within the reserve and sectoral policies provides a useful framework for defining management policies and practices. However, the Management Plan submitted is materially the same as the draft developed in the late 1990s and approved within the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources (MRMEWR) in 2000.
Proposals for boundary marking and the development of the Ministry’s management capacity and facilities within the property are supported, as is the approach to tourism development, interagency coordination and the proposal to study and control off-road vehicle access.
IUCN considered there are some aspects of the plan, which could be strengthened, including: the significance of World Heritage listing and the outstanding universal value of the property need to be more strongly emphasized within the plan. Maintaining or enhancing the outstanding universal value of the property should underpin management; the central role of oil, gas and mineral resources to Oman’s economy is understood as is the fact that oil/gas and mineral concessions pre-dated the property’s World Heritage listing. Further it is understood that the controls imposed seek to regulate these activities within the property. However, the current provisions within the plan which conditionally permit mining activity (exploration and production of oil, gas and minerals) in all zones of the property cannot be supported; Permissible uses in Zone 3 (Buffer Zone), which include oil, gas & mineral production, major industry, housing & settlement etc, are not compatible with World Heritage listing. All three Zones (1, 2 and 3) should remain within the area protected under Royal Decree, but the State Party submit a revised proposal aligning and limiting the World Heritage property to Zones 1 and 2 only; there is provision within the plan that allows Zone 5 (Special use zone) to override any of the other zones. It would be preferable to have these areas clearly identified, with appropriate uses stated; any proposals to change the boundaries of the property based on negotiations with oil, gas and mineral interests should be clearly identified; the proposal to permit public access on primary and secondary roads provided they stay within 200 metres of roads should be closely monitored and reviewed if necessary; tourism proposals are appropriate provided they are acted upon within a reasonable timeframe and provided the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources (MRMEWR) has the capacity and on-property presence to effectively manage these activities; the plan lacks adequate indicators and targets. It is recommended an action plan be developed showing prioritized action within the five year timeframe of the plan; the plan does not indicate the staffing and financial resources, both capital and recurrent, which will be required to implement the plan. It is recommended to include an assessment of the financial resources needed to implement the plan and a commitment by the State Party to fund the implementation of the plan.
Furthermore, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall the policy positions by both the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) as well as the Shell Oil Company on no extraction in World Heritage areas.