Kingdom Nurtures Conservation Alongside Development
Shehadeh, Hussein, The Middle East
Determined that continued economic and social development must not be achieved at the expense of the environment, Saudi Arabia has demonstrated a firm commitment to the preservation of its unique and varied ecosystems
"Saudi Arabia operates a system of wildlife reserves, invests extensively in the preservation of endangered species, manages a sophisticated programme for captive breeding and the reintroduction of rare species and is conducting pioneering research. The ultimate objective is to ensure the compatibility of development with a healthy and thriving natural environment," says Profressor Abdulaziz H. AbuZinada, general secretary of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD).
To get the most out of its environmental programmes, Saudi Arabia set up the NCWCD in 1986, co-ordinating the efforts of various government agencies under the umbrella of a single national entity capable of devising and pursuing long-term conservation programmes. Chaired by Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Aviation Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, the NCWCD has been mandated with the protection of the nation's natural heritage. It will do so through four principal means - habitat and species protection, captive breeding of endangered species and their reintroduction into the wild, legislative measures to protect the environment and public education on the subject.
"The first task to face the Commission was to conduct extensive field work to determine the country's wildlife populations, the status of different ecosystems and the steps necessary to protect them," says Abu-Zinada. By 1991 these efforts had resulted in the establishment of 10 reserves with more planned. After millions of barrels of oil were dumped into the Arabian Gulf and massive fires were started by retreating Iraqi troops, the expedition of the plans was vital. Faced with extensive damage caused to marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the NCWCD put together a plan prepared with the assistance of the World Conservation Union.
Now well under way, the plan will provide 56 terrestrial reserves, 33 marine reserves in the Red Sea and 14 marines reserves on the Gulf within the next couple of years.
"While taking steps to preserve the ecology and protect indigenous animal and plant species, the Commission has also endeavoured to build up the flora and fauna of areas that have been affected by the pressures of development and human habitation," emphasises Professor Abu-Zinada. This is being achieved through the captive breeding of species whose populations in the wild have decreased or disappeared in areas where they once thrived.
Three centres have already been established at Taif, Thumamah and Qassim to breed endangered species in captivity for eventual reintroduction to the wild.
The Taif Research Centre can be credited with the successful breeding of the houbara bustard, numbers of which declined precipitously during the past few decades. The initial stock was raised from eggs collected in the wild and successfully inseminated artificially in 1989. There are now 300 of the birds at the centre. A small flock has already been released into the wild and its progress is being monitored before more birds are released.
The King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre at Thumamah specialises in breeding three species of native gazelle, rheem, idmi and dorcas. Starting with a small herd of animals captured in the wild, the centre has managed to build up a flock of over 1,000 gazelles. Four years after the breeding programme began, animals were released into the Hawtat Bani Tamira Reserve in 1991. The centre has also successfully bred ostriches, coursers, Arabian partridge and guinea fowl. …