05 August 2014

Arabian Oryx at Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area – Near Taif

During our visit to Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area earlier in the year we saw a number of small groups of Arabian Oryx another animal that has been reintroduced by the NWRC to the Protected Area. The species had become extinct in the wild in 1972 and the NWRC started a breeding program with animals originating from King Khaled farm in Thumama near Riyadh, now King Khaled Wildlife Research Center, as well as other animals from captive collections in the United States of America, Jordon, Europe and the Middle East. After ten years successful breeding the herd had increased to 250 animals that are recognised as the genetically most diverse in the world. Animals were released into Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area in 1990 and from 1990 – 1993 a total of 72 Arabian Oryx were released and now the population is the largest self sustaining population in the world. Reintroduction in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area has now led to 400 to 500 animals being present and a healthy breeding population with fifth and six generation animals in the Protected Area that are incredibly difficult to get close to. The success of this reintroduction project has lead to the downgrading of the species from Threatened to vulnerable on the Red Data list. We saw a small number of animals during our stay at the Protected Area but did not manage to get close to any individuals. We saw a herd of animals totally eleven at one stage in the early morning but they moved off as soon as they saw us and were into the rising sun so the photos were not so good.

The Arabian Oryx is an antelope that is highly specialised for its harsh desert environment with its bright white coat reflecting the sun’s rays and the hooves splayed providing a large surface area with which to walk on the sandy ground. The legs are brown in colour, with white bands on the ankles, and there are also brown markings on the face, on the bridge of the nose, the cheeks and a triangular patch on the forehead. Arabian Oryx of both sexes have magnificent straight, ringed horns that can reach up to 68 centimetres in length with those of the female thinner and longer than the male. Males have a tuft of hair on the throat, and the tails of both sexes are tufted at the ends and dark brown/black on the lower half. They form herds containing up to 30 animals and seem able to detect rainfall from a great distance and have an almost nomadic way of life, travelling vast areas in search of precious new growth after intermittent rains. They graze on grasses and herbs and will also eat roots and tubers and can go without direct water sources for long periods of time. Most activity occurs in the early morning and late evening with groups resting in the shade during the searing midday heat. Using their front hooves, oryx excavate depressions in the ground, which allow them to lie in cooler sand, and provide some protection against the fierce desert winds.