23 Sep 2020

Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

In August, my family and I went to Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area with the kind permission of the Saudi Wildlife Authority and other government agencies to who we extend our heartfelt appreciation and thanks. We entered at first light in our own four-wheel drive car and had a Mahazat ranger with us at all times to help guide us and show us the best wildlife and prevent us getting lost in the large reserve. Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area is a 2,244 sq. km fenced area located on the arid plains of western Saudi Arabia, 170 km north-east of Taif. It has been protected since 1988 and was surrounded by about 220km of chainlink fence, topped with barbed wire to a height of 2.1m by March 1989. Owing to the perimeter fence, Bedouins and their livestock have no access to the Reserve preventing livestock overgrazing the plants and as a result the habitat has become much improved over the years. It was protected mainly as a reintroduction site in Saudi Arabia for the Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx, Arabian Sand Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa marica, Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii and North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus. Mahazat as-Sayd is a hot and semi-arid to arid desert steppe habitat, typical of the central plateau of the Arabian Peninsula, gently undulating at elevations of 900–1050m above sea level. Three distinct substrates occur; a gravel plain, a basalt undulating plain, and a chert area interspersed with basaltic outcrops. Sand and fine gravel are the dominant surface substrates covering over 95% of the Area. Mean monthly maximum temperatures range from 19°C to 42°C and minimums from 6°C to 25°C. Rainfall averages 100 mm a year, and typically occurs between March to May each year, but with occasional important rain events at other times. There is no permanent source of water above ground level in Mahazat as-Sayd but ephemeral pools exist for short periods after heavy rain. After completion of the fence 156 vascular plant species were identified, 16 mammal species have been recorded and 159 species of birds, of which 17 have been confirmed as breeding. We saw many animals including large numbers of Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx, possibly twenty Arabian Sand Gazelle - Gazella subgutturosa marica, one Mountain Gazelle Gazella gazella or “Idmi” and a single Ruppell's Fox Vulpes ruppelli sabea. Over ten different Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia were located almost always close to their large burrows. Bird wise we saw plenty of Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Lappet-faced Vultures as well as North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus. We also saw a few Great Grey Shirkes and several flocks of House Sparrows.
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike 
House Sparrow
House Sparrow

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