32nd Gulf News Fun Drive: Desert route offers tryst with nature

Fun Drive will help participants experience fragile ecosystem through the eyes of one of Dubai’s sons of the desert

21:49 January 9, 2013

Dubai: Participants attending the 32nd Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive this weekend will experience a one-of-a-kind desert route carefully carved in Dubai’s Al Marmoom Conservation Reserve by one of the emirate’s own sons of the desert.

“I am happy to be part of this year’s Fun Drive because this time participants will see the desert through my eyes,” Jaber Sultan Al Mutaiwei, Manager of Al Marmoom Conservation Reserve, told Gulf News. Al Marmoum conservation area is located on Al Qudra Road in Seeh Al Salam which is 20km before Bab Al Shams Desert Resort.

This year’s Fun Drive, the biggest in its 27-year history, is eying the Guinness World Records for the “Largest Convoy of Off-Road Vehicles” with more than 1,000 participating vehicles. Last year, more than 600 4x4s tackled the dunes of the Liwa desert region.

One of Dubai’s biggest protected areas, the Al Marmoom Conservation Reserve was established in 1999 following a hunting trip by the late Dubai Ruler His Highness Shaikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. “His Highness found dead gazelles in the area and when he asked what was the cause he was told that it was due to lack of rain and drought. Following this discovery Shaikh Maktoum established the conservation area to maintain the existence of these gazelles and other desert wildlife and plants.”

Al Mutaiwei was shaped by the desert where he lived all his life learning and gaining desert-related expertise from the older generation. He derived his desert survival skills and expertise from his father and uncle. Some of these skills include reading and tracking footprints and finding water.

Fun Drive participants should prepare themselves for a 200-kilometre route chosen specifically by Al Mutaiwei so that they experience the desert in a unique light, away from the typical commercial routes that are common in today’s desert safaris. The dunes will have different levels of difficulty to give drivers a well-rounded experience. They will also catch a glimpse of the different wildlife available in the conservation such as camels, gazelles, birds and plants.

Al Mutaiwei stressed that the route was selected in a way as to not disturb the wildlife at the conservation: “The most important thing that I kept in mind was the animals’ well-being. It is the mating season especially for the birds which lay their eggs on the sand. This is why I ensured that the Fun Drivers can have fun without harming these animals and plants by keeping them away from certain areas like where the eggs are laid.”

When the area was first established three main steps were taken to ensure the preservation of the desert’s wildlife: providing food and water, protecting the animals from passers-by and getting rid of the predators that might hunt them down.

“What we started doing is building rest stops for each group of gazelles that contain food, water and shade. We also hunted down wolves that killed the wildlife and placed them in a closure, these two steps allowed the gazelles to reproduce,” he said.

The three-person effort was then expanded following the rule of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

“Shaikh Mohammad followed in his father’s footsteps and expanded the conservation even further. We now have 70 feeding points that are three to five kilometres apart; we also have 30,000 Aldmani [Arabian] gazelles as well as 2,000 Reem and 2000 Oryx gazelles which were initially donated by Shaikh Mohammad from his personal conservation,” added Al Mutaiwei.

The conservation also includes four artificial lakes for the different birds available, some are permanent such as the Black-bellied Sandgrouse, pigeons, and grey francolin while others are migratory like the stone curlew and the houbara bustard.

“The reservation is open for anyone at any time and free of charge, the only thing I ask of visitors is to keep the area clean and not throw any waste — no matter what — into the desert,” he said.

For more information on Al Marmoom Conservation reserve, visit: www.mmpwa.com.

— Noor Nazzal is a trainee at Gulf News