3 Sep 2020

North African Red-necked Ostrich – Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

Whilst in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area we found a group of North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus comprising two adults and fourteen young together in a group The birds were very wary and never allowed close approach. The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) has three or four living subspecies and the Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camalus is the closest living relative to the extinct subspecies that occurred in Saudi Arabia as proved by Mitochondrial DNA. The presence of a shared lineage in these two Ostrich subspecies indicates that gene flow between the two geographic forms may have been possible in the recent evolutionary past, probably along the Egyptian–Sinai–Palestine passageway. The morphological features of the Arabian Ostrich as described by Lord Rothschild (1919) states that the bird was smaller than the various extant African forms, however Bates (1940) questioned whether the race was valid and suggested that the type was not a fully adult bird and therefore would have been naturally smaller when compared to adults elsewhere.  Within two decades of it being named the Arabian Ostrich had become extremely rare and perhaps extinct, without any study of it being made in the wild. The Arabian Ostrich formerly occurred in inhabited open semi-desert and desert plains of the Middle East. In historic times it was found north to about 33°N, and east to Kuwait, including Jordan, Syrian Desert south into the Arabian Peninsula and apparently southern Palestine and the Sinai. The range of the Arabian Ostrich seems to have been continuous in prehistoric times, but with the drying-up of the Arabian Peninsula, it disappeared from the inhospitable areas of the Arabian Desert such as the Rub'al-Khali. In historic times, the bird seems to have occurred in two discrete relict populations: a smaller one in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula and a larger one in the area where today the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet. The Arabian Ostrich has long had a significant place in the culture of the region and it is known that the species already occurred in the Middle East thousands of years ago. There is a rock carving with an adult with 11 offspring featured on the famous prehistoric "Graffiti Rock I" about two hours southwest of Riyadh that date around 2000-1000 BC. Based on analysis a reintroduction project using S. c. camelus was set up by the National Wildlife Research Center in Saudi Arabia with captive bred birds released in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area. 
North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

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