Protective Fences Starving Saudi Wildlife

Saudi-Oryx-Starve Despite best intentions, Saudi’s Mahazat as-Sayd reserve fence led to the deaths of hundreds of animals between 1991 and 2008

After realizing the damage that plundering humans have had on wildlife habitat, conservationists have developed schemes aimed at reversing some of that damage. Recent programs include tagging turtles in Qatar to better understand their habitat, or in Saudi, researchers are cordoning off new territory to allow new insect species to proliferate.

In Iraq, conservationists expose themselves to combat zones to care for their wild. Unfortunately, even the best intentions result in disaster. Designed to protect them, a fence surrounding the Mahazat as-Sayd reserve in Saudi Arabia has instead resulted in the widespread deaths of rare Arabian Oryx and Sand gazelles.

Bleached bones and disembodied horns

Unprecedented ungulate deaths took place in Saudi Arabia’s Mahazat as-Sayd reserve between 1991 and 2008, leaving behind a devastating trail of bleached bones and disembodied horns.

“Researchers found that most deaths occurred during the summer, when rainfall was negligible. The animals starved to death because of the reduced availability, accessibility and quality of food plants in the area,” according to Wildlife Extra.

Protective measures failed

Saudi Arabia’s National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development claimed that the 220k fence surrounding the 2,650km2 “was established for the initial reintroduction of captive bred Arabian Oryx into their natural habitat.”

The Oryx went instinct in 1972 after the last one was shot by hunters, says Animal Info, but by 2003, 886 Oryx were counted in Saudi. That success is trounced by the subsequent starvation of hundreds of oryx and other wildlife.

Freedom to roam

“Grazing of Arabian oryx habitat depends on rainfall and animals move over great distance in response to rain. However, the fence around the protected area at Mahazat as-Sayd prevents the natural movement of animals and artificially concentrates animals into what may be an unfavourable habitat,” writes Wildlife Extra.

The sand gazelle in Asia is reported to travel hundreds of kilometers to pursue its food.

“Researchers believe that it is, therefore, likely that fences such as the one around Mahazat as-Sayd protected area are exacerbating the effects of drought,” according to Wildlife Extra.

Following the realization that the fence is causing such havoc, reserve officials are initiating an urgent plan to establish camps with food and water for animals at risk.

Driving fauna to drought

In 1952, Foster-Vesey-Fitzgerald wrote that the Arabian desert species were remarkably resilient, even against rifles. But they predicted that hunting would “sweep Arabia’s fauna into uttermost corners, where a subsequent drought will whiten its bones.”

They could not have predicted that the very efforts to protect the fauna from human sport would actually result in their demise.

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