rewilding arabia II
As fierce desert winds tried to drag us to far off lands, I watched as 20 Arabian oryx, 50 sand gazelles and 10 Nubian ibex were released in to Sharaan nature reserve, in northwest Saudi Arabia, the next stage in the countries ambitious rewilding program – Years of overgrazing by domestic livestock, and overhunting of its native antelopes and other species for their meat and horns, have reduced much of Saudi Arabia to empty spaces, devoid of both fauna and flora. As a result, its predators have also largely disappeared. But the return of vegetation and grazing mammals will, it’s hoped, culminate in the reintroduction of the critically endangered Arabian leopard, once the top predator in this vast and mysterious land. Overall, the aim is to rehabilitate 400,000 sq km of land – an area nearly double that of England and Scotland combined – by planting 10 billion trees and other vegetation and to restore Saudi’s landscapes to their natural state. The overall goal is to restore the delicate balance of the ecosystems so that as little human intervention as possible is required. Engagement with local communities is vital if this is to succeed. Here the local village elders released the first wildlife back into this ecosystem, where for almost a generation it had been absent. Today, if you sit on a rock in the desert and look around at the rugged crags, the clefted canyons and flat, level sands, you will not see any wildlife, but you can easily imagine what was here in years gone by, and see the potential for what could be here once again in the very near future.