The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary of Oman has generated a great deal of buzz in the past few years, both positive and negative. For one thing, it was among the most important UNESCO to be inscribed in the list in recent years (it was inscribed in 1994) due to its status as a habitat for several endangered species, whose last remaining herds in the wild are on it. Then 2007 came and it gained the dubious distinction of being the first site to ever be taken of UNESCO’s list, due to the Omani government reducing it to a mere 10% of its original size (such an act goes against the rules provided in the UNESCO World Heritage Site guidelines). As such, many tourists coming to Oman are now wondering whether or not there is yet value to visiting the site or if its size reduction has led to it becoming a place no longer worth their attentions.
The sanctuary is situated on the country’s coastal hills and the desert bordering them, on the Jiddat Al-Harasis plateau. This plateau experiences heavy fog banks every now and then that keep the sparse flora nourished with dew, supporting the endangered herbivores walking the area. Besides the Arabian Oryx itself, other extremely endangered species in the sanctuary include the Arabian Gazelle and the Houbara Bustard. There are many other species of note, such as the Nubian Ibex, Arabian Wolf, Honey Badger, Caracal Lynx, Gray Monitor Lizard, Red Fox, Ruppell’s Sand Fox, several species of vipers and sand snakes, and over a hundred species of birds. There are people too, of course, but they are largely nomadic. Peoples that occupy this area are from local tribes that are said to have roamed these lands for centuries, like the Harasis and Janaba, and live pastoral lifestyles.
The Arabian Oryx is the most important resident as far as tourists are concerned, of course. The species went extinct in the wild in the early 1970s and captive numbers throughout the world are extremely low, with breeding pairs per captive herd often falling below five. The problem in most countries, especially in the wild sanctuary in Oman, is that the animals are still being poached and their habitats are undergoing massive shifts as well as being subjected to various threats. In the Oman case, the threats are coming in the form of encroaching development and the search for oil reserves.
Whatever the case, it is definitely worth coming to the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary of Oman if you do pass by the country and have the time as well as dedication to pursue a trip through it. The latter qualifiers are given because it is not easy to get inside the site and actually see the oryx: permits are required and you have to arrange for an official guide from Jaaluni (the field station for the people maintaining the sanctuary) to come to get you from Hayma. If you can manage to arrange it, though, you may well be treated to a sight of what could be the last population of the majestic Arabian Oryx in the wild.