14 Arabian Oryx have been relesed to the wild. The Oryx were released into the Qasr Al Sarab Protected Area, as part of the long-running Shaikh Mohammad Biin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, led by the Environment Agency Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of EAD.Photo Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Fourteen Arabian Oryx were released into the wild in Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning as part of an Oryx reintroduction programme, a key example of UAE’s prioritisation in boosting and preserving biodiversity, a top official said.

At the Qasr Al Sarab Protected Area around 200km away from Abu Dhabi, in the presence of ministers and senior officials, the beautiful, graceful sight of the oryx being enabled to freely inhabit their habitat made for a rewarding scene.

The species, which was on the verge of extinction, will now make the Empty Quarter — the largest sand deserts in the world — their habitat under the protection of rangers of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD). The oryx were released as part of the long-running Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, led by the EAD.

“The UAE has succeeded in transforming ecologically distinctive areas into internationally recognised protected ones,” said Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment. “The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has six marine and 13 terrestrial sites, making up 13 per cent and 15.4 per cent of the emirate’s area, respectively, which are supporting some of the most critical habitats and significant species populations. This is a key example of how the UAE has placed a high priority on the importance of boosting and preserving biodiversity,” said Al Zeyoudi.

The initiative will support sustainable tourism in the emirate, said officials.

The oryx, with their new home behind the Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara, will provide guests at the resort a unique opportunity to observe the Arabian Peninsula’s most iconic species in its natural habitat, said an official.

The oryx had long been a trophy for hunters until they nearly became extinct in the wild. However, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in the late 1960s, initiated a captive breeding programme to ensure the survival of this species.

Noora Mohammad Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, said: “The Arabian Oryx are not only important environmentally to the region, but also culturally. It held high value during past civilisations on the Arabian Peninsula and has featured prominently in Arabic literature, art and poetry. It was revered not just for their physical beauty but for their ability to adapt to the desert environment, as well as for their strength and courage. It is a moment of pride for the nation to see the late Shaikh Zayed’s aspirations for the Arabian Oryx become a reality,” she said, after the release programme.

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD’s secretary-general, who led the release, said, “The Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme, which is considered one of the world’s most successful conservation programmes, has been going strong for 10 years. We are well within the reach of achieving our vision of creating large sanctuaries, within the areas that the oryx lived in the past, where a viable population can roam freely.”

Today, 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.

Al Mubarak added that the UAE’s efforts also extend globally as the oryx have been reintroduced in Oman and Jordan as part of the programme.