26 March 2014

National Wildlife Research Centre – Taif

My family and I were very lucky to be invited to look around the Saudi Wildlife Authority National Wildlife Research Centre (NWRC). This is an amazing centre that works on the reintroduction of rare and scarce species to many of its Protected Areas around the Kingdom and is a huge credit to the country for its forward thinking on conservation matters. The centre was established in 1986 and is particularly involved in the reintroduction of the rapidly declining Macqueen’s Bustard as well as reintroducing the extinct Ostrich. The Ostrich that occurred in Saudi Arabia, and was last seen in 1941, was the Arabian Ostrich Stuthio camelus syriacus, but unfortunately there are no examples of their subspecies left so the birds being reintroduced are the North African Red-necked Ostrich Stuthio camelus camelus from Sudan, that is genetically the closest surviving subspecies. Birds were reintroduced in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area and now have a self-sustaining population of around 300 birds, and this is the only place in Saudi Arabia where you can see this species. The birds are now self-sustaining and are in fact so successful at breeding that individuals are now being sent overseas to other breeding centres. Macqueen’s Bustards were reintroduced to the Protected Area to re-establish a sustainable resident breeding population, with the NWRC pioneering the captive breeding of Macqueen’s Bustard, which has now been employed by other centres around the Middle East and North Africa. The captive breeding birds came from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordon, Iran and confiscated birds of unknown origin and produce between 150 – 300 birds annually. There are currently about 250 to 300 Macqueen’s Bustards in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area but they are very difficult to see. A huge amount of scientific work has gone into the reintroduction of these birds and many scientific papers have also been written and this is another great success story from the NWRC. Breeding birds of both of these species are kept at the NWRC but the success of the Ostrich has meant that no breeding is required anymore. You are not allowed out of the vehicle near the Bustards as they do not want them habituated to humans.
North African Red-necked Ostrich
Macqueen's Bustard

The centre also has a number of rescued or confiscated animals including Arabian Leopard, Stripped Hyena, Wolf, Cheetah and Lion. Nubian Ibex is being raised at the centre and a Honey Badger is there that was trapped in Saudi Arabia and sent to the NWRC. Other animals that have been reintroduced by the NWRC are Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle. Since 1997 a number of Arabian Leopard Panthera pardus nimr have been collected by the centre and with cooperation with the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah, which pioneered captive breeding techniques for the species, a number of cubs have been born. These animals will, hopefully, ensure the captive survival of the species and could allow future reintroductions to the wild.
Arabian Leopard
Arabian Oryx
Honey Badger
Striped Hyena
Nubian Ibex