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'Uruq Bani Ma'arid Protected Area

'Uruq Bani Ma‘arid is also known as Uruq Bani Mu‘arid; Al-‘Arid; Bani Ma‘arid; Bani Mu‘arid is a Natural Reserve or Resource use reserve and in other words controlled hunting reserve.  Uruq Bani Ma‘arid (19°30'N - 45°30'E / Lat 19° 10'N-Long. 45° 15'E) was declared as protected area in 1994 in the Najran and the Riyadh Emirates with an area of 12,658.50 sq. km., divided into three zones: the core Natural Reserve of 2,400 km2, a managed grazing zone, and a wider controlled hunting zone.  The reason for declaring the Uruq Bani Ma‘arid as protected area was that the area was deemed suitable habitat for re-introduction of Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx, Arabian sand gazelle Gazella subgutturosa marica, mountain gazelle Gazella gazella, and ostrich Struthio camelus. ‘Uruq Bani Ma‘arid is representative of the exposed limestone escarpment, parallel dunes and inter-dune corridors of the western Rub' al-Khali. The site also contains archaeological artefacts.

‘Uruq Bani Ma‘arid is situated along the western edge of Ar-Rub‘ al-Khali, the Empty Quarter, which is widely considered the largest sand desert on Earth. With the world’s largest longitudinal sand dunes, overlying a dissected limestone plateau, and the southern end of the Tuwayq Escarpment, this protected area contains greater biological diversity than any other part of the Empty Quarter, with vegetated wadis, gravel plains, and inter-dune corridors. It is the last place that the Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx is reliably reported to have been observed in the wild,* and is now the focus of an intensive and successful reintroduction program for Arabian oryx, reem gazelle Gazella subgutturosa marica, and idmi gazelle Gazella gazella cora. Ostrich eggshells are found in abundance in the area, and reintroduction of the ostrich Struthio camelus is under consideration.

Among the other taxa found in ‘Uruq Bani Ma‘arid are the houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata, lappet-faced vulture Torgos tracheliotus, sand fox Vulpes rueppelli, sand cat Felis margarita, and desert monitor Varanus griseus. ‘Uruq Bani Ma‘arid is adjacent to the important archaeological site of Al-Faw, an ancient trading city. Among the site's cultural artifacts are “kites” once used for hunting gazelle, numerous cairns and watchtowers, and stone tools. A good relationship has been established between the Protected Area management and the local bedouins who are represented by a liaison committee.

Human population of nearest cities is over 100,000 and the nearest town are Wadi Dawasir; as-Sulayyil; Najran; Sharurah.  The protected areas has elevation from 640 to 1,062 m asl  or 645-1071 m ASL.  The demarcation of the boundary is the lower edge of the escarpment marks the western edge. Other boundaries are unmarked but locally known by landmarks and named inter-dune corridors.

The north-south running, west-facing, Tuwayq escarpment terminates a narrow limestone plateau that is dissected by numerous incised wadis which drain eastwards into interdunal corridors. Parallel linear dunes [the 'ergs'], up to 150 m tall and covered in mobile red sand, separate the interdune corridors [the ‘shiqqahs’] which are filled with sand, silt or gravels. The altitude falls from 1,062 m asl on dunes near the escarpment to 640 m asl in the interdune corridors.

Other facts are that the area is arid and hot, nearest weather station: Sharurah (725 m asl) with annual mean ambient temperature (1985/93): 28.4°C and annual rainfall (1985/93): 30.2 mm.  As far as water is concerned that the area has no permanent water sources. The ability of the substrate to retain moisture however, means that significant rain can have an effect on vegetation for up to five years subsequently. The drainage basins, perennial / ephemeral streams, springs, seeps, floods, and groundwater .

Vegetation

The limestone plateau is largely barren but the incised wadis support a diverse dwarf shrub community with several perennial legumes, grasses and Acacia spp. Perennial grasses and dwarf shrubs, including Fagonia indica, grow on gravels in the interdune corridors. Dwarf shrub communities on sands are dominated by Tribulus arabicus. A very diffuse community dominated by a woody shrub, Calligonum crinitum ssp. arabicum together with a sedge Cyperus aucheri and the perennial grasses Stipagrostis drarii and Centropodia fragilis grow on the dunes. Small stands of Haloxylon persicum are found on the western edge of the sands, and there are unusual stands of Moringa peregrina and Commiphora myrrha. Annual plants are relatively unimportant. The rapid increase in plant biomass which follows rain is due to the rapid regeneration of perennial species, and the germination of annuals. 106 species of plants are documented by the NCWCD.

Mammals

The area is part of the former range of Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx, mountain gazelle Gazella gazella and Arabian sand gazelle Gazella subgutturosa marica. These three species have been successfully re-introduced at the site since 1995. The reserve also provides important habitat for sand cat Felis margarita and Ruppell’s fox Vulpes rueppelli. have also been recorded in the reserve: red fox Vulpes vulpes, Cape hare Lepus capensis, Ethiopian hedgehog Paraechinus aethiopicus, Cheesman's gerbil Gerbillus cheesmani, lesser jerboa Jaculus jaculus, and feral dogs.

Avifauna

The current bird list for ‘Uruq Bani Ma‘arid contains 104 species, including single observations of wandering individuals on passage. Only 16 species can sensibly be thought of as residents. There are nevertheless some rare or endangered species at least seasonally present, such as sooty falcon Falco concolor, corncrake Crex crex, and Basra reed warbler Acrocephalus griseldis. The presence and documentation of a significant breeding population of lappet-faced vulture Torgos tracheliotus, and the presence of breeding short-toed eagle Circaetus gallicus, is also very important to NCWCD. These are large, slow-breeding species, potentially vulnerable and of regional as well as national conservation significance.

Houbara bustards Chlamydotis [undulata} macqueenii have been seen in the reserve; probably rare spring migrants.

The site was also part of the former range of the extinct Arabian ostrich Struthio camelus syriacus. Fragments of ostrich shells can easily be found throughout the reserve, and introduction of the ostrich Struthio camelus camelus is under consideration.

Reptiles

Numerous species of lizards and snakes inhabit the protected area including: monitor lizard (waral) Varanus griseus, spiny-tailed lizard (dhabb) Uromastyx ocellatus (?)and U. aegyptius, Scincus mitranus, sand viper Cerastes cerastes gasparetti, Stenodactylus arabicus, Acanthodacty/us gongrorhynchatus, Cyrtodactylus sp. and Phrynocephalus arabicus.

Threats and conservation initiatives

Irreversible / major threats, moderate threats, minor threats

Mining / extraction, road construction, settlement / expansion of settlements, agricultural expansion, overgrazing, deforestation, afforestation, hunting, fishing, dumping / littering, tourism / visitation, insecticides, invasive species (Argemone spp.). There has been seasonal intermittent encroachment of camels into the non-grazing zones of the reserve. Poaching is another problem.

  • In ‘Uruq Bani Ma‘arid there are excellent opportunities for guided wildlife viewing and photographic safaris, by four-wheel-drive vehicle or camel, especially in the cool season of the year. The site is suitable for wilderness leadership and scouting camps. Appropriate facilities would include a campground, a small educational visitor’s center, and an interpretative nature trail. Ruins of the ancient city of Al-Faw lie close to the northwestern edge of the reserve. Among the site’s cultural artifacts are “kites” once used for hunting gazelle, numerous cairns and watchtowers and stone tools.
  • Gathering:
  • Grazing by livestock:
  • Production of wood and firewood:
  • Educational value for ecology and geomorphology, and for traditional conservation.
  • Proximity (by road) to towns/cities of over 100,000 inhabitants:

International agreements

  • Important Plant Area
  • Important Bird Area?
  • MAB
  • World Heritage
  • Convention on Migratory Species
  • WESCANA
  • Convention to Combat Desertification