Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oman's Oryx Sanctuary deleted from UNESCO's World Heritage List

The main in talk Oman, at least on the net and the so-called "blogosphere" is Oman's dubious honor of having the first ever site to be removed from UNESCO's World Heritage List. UNESCO announced their decision on Thursday in a press release which declared powerful words like "unprecedented decision" and further went on to cross out the sanctuary's name on the list. According to the press release:

The World Heritage Committee deleted the property because of Oman's decision to reduce the size of the protected area by 90%, in contravention of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention. This was seen by the Committee as destroying the outstanding universal value of the site which was inscribed in 1994.

In 1996, the population of the Arabian Oryx in the site, was at 450 but it has since dwindled to 65 with only about four breeding pairs making its future viability uncertain. This decline is due to poaching and habitat degradation.

After extensive consultation with the State Party, the Committee felt that the unilateral reduction in the size of the Sanctuary and plans to proceed with hydrocarbon prospection would destroy the value and integrity of the property, which is also home to other endangered species including, the Arabian Gazelle and houbara bustard.

I visited the Oryx Sanctuary in 2000 and by then because of the poaching all the oryx had been taken out of the wild and brought in to a fenced area to protect them. The poachers were working for the sheikhs in the UAE and Qatar who were taking the oryx alive and placing them in private zoos for these sheikhs.

The problem, which most people don't seem to comprehend, is that the Oryx Sanctuary is massive. It is 27,500 square kilometers. For comparison the entire state of Kuwait is 17,820 sq. km, while Qatar is 11,437 sq. km. So basically the Oryx Sanctuary was about the size of Kuwait and Qatar combined. It is not easy to protect an area that large when all what a poacher needs is a land cruiser abu shanab and a rifle to go in under the cover of darkness, shoot an oryx or two and drive through the desert, slip the border into KSA or UAE and sell the animal to a rich sheikh who would gladly pay thousands of rials for that oryx.

The decision to reduce the size of the sanctuary was by royal decree 11/2007 on January 28. This isn't some ministerial decision. This came directly from the Sultan of Oman. In fact, the Oryx Project itself is managed directly by the Diwan of Royal Court through the Office of the Adviser for Conservation, not the Ministry of Regional Municipalities. And even now with the sanctuary reduced by 90% it is still about 2,842 square kilometers, i.e. about 4 times the size of Bahrain!

Let me play devil's advocate with this question to my fellow Omanis: with your country's main income coming from oil and production having already dropped by about 300,000 bpd in the past few years, what's more important to you, more oil exploration or an oryx sanctuary bigger than some neighboring countries?

And to those who are complaining about why they didn't know before that the government had reduced the size of the sanctuary by 90%, or how come there hasn't been a statement from the government in response to UNESCO's decision; why are you are surprised? Was there a statement when Oman withdrew from the GCC monetary union last year or Gulf Air this year?

PS. Oman still has four other sites on the list.


Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you
I value the Omani decision because obviously it cares for the Oryx itself, not the reputation Oryx brings to Oman. The reputation that is linked with a wide -yet difficult to control- area condition :/

Sorry that people out there can hear this piece of information but turn deaf when it comes to other Omani accomplishments

Balqis said...

I think no one could care less but we all became ecologists now
Thing is that when you read the news, you really feel ashamed : it never happened in unesco history that a site was deleted
So is like when Oman lost the cup

Sleepless In Muscat said...

I have nothing personal against Oman bringing down the size of sanctuary to have more control over the now endangered species of Oryxes.

But, in all fairness, I find it very dissapointing that Oman took this step too late to counter the effect of illegal poaching.

And I am suprised that you can justify the needs to look for more oil over environmental concerns. I for one, wish we never did have oil. We could use all the clean energy around us instead, the sun, the wind, the water. Or should we all doom ourselves the day we never have oil?

There WAS life before oil, you know.

Anyhow - you have your opinion as do the others. I guess we just each have to respect each other's opinions in this delicate matter.

And to HELL with the UN, and UNESCO.

Kicker said...

Few points make you wonder here:

1- Why delete the sanctuary at all, there are still some Oryx there for whatever sake. What was the reason to enlist it first of all then? (By the way, the Arabic -or Omani- name - I don’t know - for these animals is –Bagar- Bin Sola’?)

2- What consequences or effects would that bring to the Oryx themselves? and did listing the sanctuary (since 1988 or whenever)bring to the oryx any good at all?

3- As far as I know, even Hydrcarbon wells can be drilled from far away (Horizontal drilling?)if there was oil at all in that area, worth doing even if it is more costly? but doubt it as if there was, it'd had been drained long time ago.

4- what brought such an organisation to make such a unprecedented decision?

Balqis said...

Am not an expert but what dsnt make sense here, is the reduction of 90% territory in 2007 out of the blue [or maybe not] when in 2002 the planned repopulation seemed to be working

Balqis said...

plus we're told [or we like to think since we're not at the top as oil production] that we're the country of history, nature and culture unlike UAE for example, and that's our strength
That's why it hurts

Arabian Princess said...

Like Amna said, the sanctury was created by His Majesty out of concern, I am sure any decision taken on that matter is also out of concern.

Sleepless, we can stay in ourhouses 1000 miles away from the sanctury and claim its more important than oil .. whther its good or bad .. our entire economy is based on oil .. and chosing Oil over the sanctury (if that was the reason) is a fair economic decision!

Muscati, in .. almost every one is ok with this decision!

muscati said...

Here's the official spin that was in yesterday's Al Watan newspaper which says that UNESCO agreed to Oman's request to remove the oryx sanctuary from the World Heritage List:

كتب ـ عبدالله الجهوري:وافقت لجنة التراث العالمي التابعة لمنظمة اليونسكو في اجتماعها الذي عقدته أمس الأول بنيوزلندا على طلب السلطنة سحب محمية المها العربية بجدة الحراسيس من قائمة التراث العالمي وذلك حفاظاً على المها العربية حيث تتعرض هذه الفصيلة النادرة في ظل المساحة الكبيرة للمحمية للصيد غير القانوني من مصادر كثيرة خارجة عن إرادة السلطنة وفق ما صرح لـ(الوطن) سعادة الدكتور موسى بن جعفر بن حسن مندوب السلطنة الدائم لدى اليونسكو. وقال سعادته: إن قرار اليونسكو يأتي عقب تقليص السلطنة مساحة المحمية من خلال المرسوم السلطاني السامي رقم( 11/ 2007 ) من 28 ألف كيلومتر لتصل المساحة الجديدة إلى 2824 كيلو متراً.

وقال سعادته: إنه تم حاليا إلغاء
المحمية ضمن قائمة المحميات الطبيعية في العالم حتى يتم إعادة الترتيبات المتعلقة بحماية المها العربية وحتى تعطى إمكانية أكبر للمعنيين بوزارة البلديات الإقليمية والبيئة وموارد المياه لحماية المها العربية.
مشيرا سعادته إلى أن التجارب أثبتت صعوبة حماية المها في ظل المساحة الكبيرة للمحمية حيث كانت تتعرض المها للصيد غير القانوني من مصادر كثيرة خارجة عن إرادة السلطنة وعلى ضوئه تم تقليص المساحة ليتسنى لنا السيطرة وضمان وتوفير حماية أكبر للمها العربية ولذلك تقدمت السلطنة بطلبها وتم اتخاذ قرار الموافقة من قبل أعضاء لجنة التراث العالمي والتي تتكون من 21 دولة تابعة لليونسكو، وتتجمع اللجنة بناء على طلب أي دولة عضو في اللجنة، مشيراً إلى أنه تم في العام الماضي عقد اجتماع اللجنة في ليتوانيا وتم خلاله إدراج الأفلاج العمانية ضمن قائمة التراث العالمي، وسيعقد في العام القادم اجتماع بكندا بناء على دعوة قدمتها للأعضاء.

وقال سعادته: إنه مع موافقة طلب السلطنة في سحب محمية المها ضمن قائمة التراث العالمي سيتم ارجاع كافة السلطات المختصة بالمحمية إلى السلطنة ولن يكون لليونسكو أي تدخل للمحمية.
وقال سعادته: إن السلطنة تحظى بالتقدير من كافة أعضاء اللجنة، وهناك إجماع بأن القرارات التي تتخذها السلطنة تعتبر واقعية وتتماشى مع مصلحة البلد لحماية ثرواتها وإمكاناتها البيئية والاقتصادية

muscati said...

Amna and Balqis - Countries have to request for a site to be included on the World Heritage list. Once included they have to abide by the rules which don't allow changes to the site. Oman went and decreased the area, hence the site had to be dropped from the list. UNESCO had to make a point out of it so that other countries can get the message that being on the list is a serious matter.

Sleepless - The problem with Oman is that we suck at PR. Oman's government should have immediately started a PR campaign right after the royal decree came out to explain why the size of the sanctuary was reduced. Unfortunately they didn't say a word until UNESCO embarrassed us by basically shaming us in front of the whole world.

I never justified anything. As I clearly said, I was playing devil's advocate when I wrote what I did.

As for the use of alternative sources, they are simply not that efficient or readily available. Solar energy still hasn't reached a stage where it can be used more regularly. We have no wind to use wind for energy, and no rivers to use for hydro electricity.

Kicker - From what I understand oil drilling can be horizontal for a few kilometers. But this sanctuary was 27500 square kilometers. What you're asking about is almost the equivalent of Oman putting up a well in Buraimi to dig oil in Kuwait!

What brought the UNESCO to do this? See above.

Arabian Princess - I wouldn't put much weight to anything anyone writes on Omania2.

Choosing oil over the sanctuary might well be a sound economic decision, but the way it was managed brought a huge embarrassment to Oman. And no matter how you look at it, it hurts!

Anonymous said...

It is completely understandable that they would reduce the size of the area as it was initally the size of Belgium. But to then hand over the area for oil exploration and not make a statement about it is just ridiculous. of course people are outraged. It's a huge blow to our credibility worldwide especially considering the UNESCO press release makes it sound like Oman reduced the size therefore it was deleted rather than Oman asked for it to be taken off the list as they wanted to reduce the size (Al Watan's version).

Anonymous said...

Hey guys.

This is indeed a complex story - with a mix of well intentioned efforts to preserve the Oryx, an initial big mistake on what being a UNESCO site meant, poor PR and a non-free press, and throw into the mix some oil and lots of oryx poaching.

The original oryx santuary - pre UNESCO - was at it widest extent indeed huge, but it was actually made of 3 parts: the big area, a smaller 'sensitive'area, and a' core area' where the oryx actually roamed. the size of the new area is exactly the same as the original core area, and has been shifted a bit.

Whoever made the original UNESCO submission probably didn't appreciate how onerous an obligation they were placing on Oman. Plus, maybe even in part due to this error - the Government never properly funded a true management plan to stop the poaching.

The government was then placed in a no win situation: UNESCO wouldn't resize because the management was so clearly useless. Oman couldn't properly manage the huge size.

More on this to come. It's a long story. I'll try to get some maps that explain it. And give some more details on the oil...

ashley said...

Glad that you explained that, seems like a resonable explanation in that case.

Is it a stupid question to ask if the Oryx are tagged in any way?

fabrizio said...

No comment, it's just a shame for Oman.
Oman's gomernment decision will destroy a sanctuary of outstanding value not only for oryx but fot endangered wildlife all to make room for petrol companies.
Life is not only econmy, oil and money. Oman's government is stealig a great treasure to all omanites and to all the world's people. Oman's Sultan is selling is beautyfull and precious country mad the same Oman's soul to economical logics like european politics have done during the last 70 years ( and still use to do ).
No comments, this is just prostitution.

Anonymous said...

It really isn't that bad Fabrizio, but it is not a question of just 'locking away' the whole area - it never was.

The Oryx were dependent on the small 2,085.4 km² core area, or Special Protection Zone. The big UNESCO area was thus mainly called a buffer zone, and lots of things have always been allowed as long as controls are in place. Check out the [original] story from Yasser Hamdan Al Kharousi, Diwan of Royal Court and Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment of the Arabian Oryx Project:

UNESCO [well actually mainly Canada for some reason, which is pretty rich of them given their very nasty oil sand programme...] just got a bit miffed that Oman wanted to change the area and so released the nasty press release 'to put pressure on his Majesty'. Check out the report from the Canadian Press:

But who runs Oman - the Government of his Majesty or some politians in the UN?

Have you ever been there? It's beautiful, and remote, and rather desolate up above the Huqf valley. There is hardly any oil there, or anything else for that matter. The oil drilling is not in either the new AOS or the previous Core zone, and it is done with extreme sensitivity. The reason the oryx have dwindled has been poaching for private zoos. For every female taken back successfully to the UAE and SA, many die from stress.

And if there is oil, maybe the money the country makes will pay for the Oryx to be looked after better in future. And maybe all those UAE Sheikhs could give back the female Oryx they had stolen for their zoos so the breeding programme could be restarted...

I think the Omanis did well to be honest and still stick with the true reason for the AOS. They could have drilled there and just not told anyone!


Anonymous said...

hard to get the link to post...

Anonymous said...

you'll have to piece this together...

Anonymous said...


Maybe you can rip this or post the link.

Anyone who really wants to know a bit more about Oryx and the problems rather than just pontificating from the Air conditioned comfort of Muscat should read these 2 interesting articles on Oryx [one UAE, one Oman]

Sneha Karri said...

Umm...ok. I'm just like wondering why on UNSECO took the site of the list anyway? What good would it do to the oryxes? Now that even the site is unprotected, poachers can probably get past security measures easier, like bribe them or something. Now its not part of the list so its in even more danger. Why WOULD they take it off the list!?!?

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