ABU DHABI, Around 200 Kilometers away from the hustle and bustle of Abu Dhabi city, 14 Arabian Oryx have been given another chance at life in the wild. The Oryx were released into the Qasr Al Sarab Protected Area, as part of the long-running Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, led by the Environment Agency � Abu Dhabi (EAD).

Once on the verge of extinction, the species will now be able to traverse one of the largest sand deserts in the world - the Empty Quarter -and guests at the Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara will have the opportunity to appreciate and learn about the Arabian Peninsula's most iconic species in its natural habitat.

The release took place in the presence of Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of EAD.

The Arabian Oryx is said to have inspired the legend of the unicorn, however, the battle that the Oryx has waged against extinction is legend itself. The animal had long been a coveted trophy for hunters until it eventually became extinct in the wild. However, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was an extraordinary visionary and, in the late 1960s, initiated a captive breeding programme to ensure the survival of this species.

On this occasion, Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said "Under the directives and continued support of the country's visionary leadership, the UAE has succeeded in transforming ecologically distinctive areas into internationally recognised protected ones. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has 6 marine and 13 terrestrial sites, making up 13% and 15.4% of the Emirate's area respectively, which are supporting some of the most critical habitats and significant species populations. The release of the Arabian Oryx by the Environment Agency � Abu Dhabi today is a key example of how the UAE has placed a high priority on the importance of boosting and preserving biodiversity."

On the release, Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, said, "The Arabian Oryx is not only important environmentally to the region, but also culturally. It held high value during past civilizations on the Arabian Peninsula and has featured prominently in Arab literature, art and poetry. It was revered not just for its physical beauty but for its ability to adapt very well to the desert environment, as well as for its strength and courage. It is a moment of pride for the whole nation to see the late Sheikh Zayed's aspirations for the Arabian Oryx become a reality."

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD's Secretary General,who led the release, said: "The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's personal interest and foresight are the drivers behind the successful reintroduction of the Oryx into the wild. Today, these efforts have evolved into the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, which is considered one of the world's most successful conservation programmes. It has been going strong for 10 years and we are well within reach of achieving our vision of creating large sanctuaries, within the areas that Oryx lived in the past, where a viable population can roam freely.

Today, thanks to the support of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of EAD, the UAE is home to over 10,000 Arabian Oryx, of which 5,000 are in Abu Dhabi. In addition, the status of the species has been down-listed from "Endangered" to "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Moreover, our Deleika Breeding and Conservation Centre will help to ensure genetic diversity is preserved for the long-term sustainability of the species."

Al Mubarak added, "Our efforts also extend globally as we have reintroduced the Oryx into protected areas, not only in the UAE, but also in the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Jordan. Moreover, we have hosted a secretariat that has enabled a number of Arab countries to come together under a unified conservation strategy, committing them to intensifying efforts to protect the Arabian Oryx."

Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, said:"By releasing Oryx into Qasr Al Sarab Protected Area, we have once again brought nature one step closer to the public. We have worked closely with the management of Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara and trained their guides to ensure that their guests will be able to see and learn about this majestic animal in the wild and enjoy an inspiring and informative experience. EAD will also continue to routinely patrol the protected area to ensure the safety and health of this important species."

Wael Soueid, Area General Manager at Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, Abu Dhabi said: "As we constantly strive to enhance our environmental and cultural initiatives through enriching desert experiences and activities, we are delighted about the reintroduction of the Arabian Oryx as it provides our guests with the exceptional opportunity to see this magnificent endangered animal back into the wild and close to Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.

Source: Emirates News Agency