Abu Dhabi: An aerial survey of the Arabian Oryx Protected Area conducted by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) has recorded 835 individual oryx. This has validated the success of the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, which was launched in 2007 with the introduction of 160 animals, an EAD press release said on Monday.
The extensive aerial survey, conducted by the EAD’s biodiversity experts aimed to count and map the presence of Arabian Oryx across the Arabian Oryx Protected Area, which covers an area of approximately 6,000 square kilometres.
Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD’s Secretary General said: “The beautiful Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) or Al Maha represents a cultural symbol of the UAE’s natural heritage. In 2007, the Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme was launched, under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who personally participated in the release of the first herd, demonstrating the depth of his passion for this iconic species and the need to conserve them and their habitat throughout range states,” she said.
Today the programme is considered as one of the world’s most successful conservation initiatives, Al Mubarak said. The species was declared extinct in the wild in the 1970s, and Abu Dhabi, is now home to the largest group of Arabian oryx in the world. These local and regional conservation efforts resulted in changing the status of Arabian Oryx, from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable” in the Red List by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2011, she added.
Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, said the EAD oversees a thriving population of Arabian Oryx in the Arabian Oryx Protected Area, which received the initial approval for declaration as a terrestrial protected area in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2016. The area supports a diverse range of habitats including sand dunes, natural ghaf groves, and valleys and planted forests, she said.
The survey also recorded the number of Arabian Sand gazelle and its distribution within the reserve. Only 613 Arabian Sand gazelle were observed, which appears low and could be due to the difficulty of monitoring this species using aerial survey as the animals’ body colour blends with the sandy environment. The survey also included registration and identification of important plant species such as Prosopis trees and Al Ghaf (Acacia ehrenbergiana) bushes.
The EAD will also to conduct ground truth survey to validate the aerial survey data. The agency aims to repeat the study once every three years.