Wildlife in Saudi Arabia

While in Saudi Arabia in September 2009, we went on a day road trip from coastal Jeddah up to the mountain city of Taif. In a perfect illustration of the saying, "You learn something new every day," I learned that the escarpment outside of the city of Taif is home to a large troop of baboons. (Specifically, it's home to baboons of the hamadryas, or "Sacred" baboon species.) I had no idea that there were wild monkeys in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia began setting aside land for protection of natural habitats, flora, and/or fauna in 1978. Currently, the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation & Development (NCWCD) manages 15 protected areas, which encompass 85,557 square kilometers (33,033 square miles).

These areas are:

  • Harrat al Harrah Reserve - Located in the north-central part of the Kingdom
  • Al Khunfah Reserve - Located in the northwest part of the Kingdom
  • Ibex Reserve - Located in the central part of the Kingdom, about 200 km (124 miles) south of Riyadh
  • Mahazat as-Sayd Reserve - This totally fenced-in reserve is located in western part of the Kingdom, approximately 150 km (93 miles) east of Taif, and adjacent to the Saja Um Al Rimth Reserve
  • Umm al Qamari Island Reserve - Located in the Red Sea off Al Qunfudah, which is located south of Jeddah and north of Jizan, approximately halfway between the two cities
  • Al Tubayq Reserve - Located northeast of Tabuk, in the northern part of the Kingdom, along the Syrian border
  • Farasan Islands Reserve - Located in the Red Sea, 40 km (25 miles) off the city of Jizan, along the southwestern coast of Saudi Arabia
  • Raydah Reserve - This small, 9-square-kilometer (3.4-square-mile) park is located adjacent to the Asir Mountains National Park a short distance outside of the coastal city of Jizan, in southwestern Saudi Arabia
  • Majami'al-Hadb Reserve - Located in the plains of the south-central part of the Kingdom
  • 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid Reserve - Located on the western edge of the Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali)
  • Nafud al-'Urayq Reserve - Located in the central part of the Kingdom, northwest of Riyadh
  • At-Taysiyah Reserve - Located on the Summan Plateau of northeastern Saudi Arabia, south of the border with Iraq
  • Al Jandaliyah Reserve - Located in the northeastern part of the Kingdom, somewhat southeast of the At-Taysiyah Reserve
  • Saja Um Al Rimth Reserve - Located in western part of the Kingdom, approximately 150 km (93 miles) east of Taif, and adjacent to the Mahazat as-Sayd Reserve
  • Jabal Shadah Reserve - Located south of Taif, near the National Wildlife Research Center, on the outer edge of the Sarawat Escarpment in the Tihamah foothills
  • Jubail Reserve - This coastal/marine reserve is located on the Arabian Gulf, outside of the city of Jubail

The NCWCD has plans to recommend over 100 sites for protection.

So while in Saudi Arabia, if you're looking to do some eco-traveling or wildlife-watching, you will find some of the following types of animals:

Gazelles

The Saudi Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas, aka Ariel gazelle), idmi gazelle (Gazella cuvieri, aka Cuvier's gazelle, Mountain gazelle), and reem gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica, aka sand gazelle; also see LHNet.org) can be found in several protected areas: the Harrat Al Harrah Reserve, Al Tubayq Reserve, Farasan Islands Reserve, and 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid Reserve. They are also planning to reintroduce them to the Ibex Reserve, Mahazat as-Sayd Reserve, and Majami'al-Hadb Reserve.

Wolves

Saudi Arabia is one of the homes of the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs), which is a small, desert wolf that is a subspecies of the grey wolf. It can be found in the Harrat Al Harrah Reserve, Raydah Reserve, Majami'al-Hadb Reserve, and Jabal Shadah Reserve.

Sand Cat

The sand cat (Felis margarita) is a nocturnal, sandy-colored cat with a broad head. It can be found in the Harrat Al Harrah Reserve and Ibex Reserve.

Caracal

The caracal (Caracal caracal) is sometimes called the caracal lynx, Persian lynx, Egyptian lynx, or African lynx. But, strictly speaking, it isn't a lynx; it is believed to be more closely related to wild cats of Africa, such as the serval. The name "caracal" comes from the Turkish for "black ear." Caracals can be found in the Raydah Reserve, Majami'al-Hadb Reserve, and Jabal Shadah Reserve.

Rock Hyrax

The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis, aka Cape Hyrax) looks somewhat like an oversized guinea pig, with a short, coarse, dark brown coat and lighter, cream-colored belly. Interestingly, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, rock hyraxes, "... (are) said to be the elephant's nearest living relative. This is true to a certain extent, but misleading since the relationship stems from a remote ancestor common to hyraxes, sea cows (dugongs and manatees) and elephants. These three are unlike other mammals, but they share various if disproportionate physiological similarities in teeth, leg and foot bones, testes (that do not descend into a scrotum) and other more obscure details." For example, like elephants, hyrax's teeth include strong molars grind up tough vegetation and two large incisors, which grow out to be tusks. Rock hyraxes can be found in the Ibex Reserve, Raydah Reserve, and Majami'al-Hadb Reserve.

Mongoose

The mongoose is perhaps best known because some of its species attack snakes, such as cobras. The Indian gray mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii, or common grey mongoose) can be found in Saudi Arabia in the Ibex Reserve, Raydah Reserve, and Majami'al-Hadb Reserve.

Hares

Saudi Arabia is home to two hare species, the Rub' al-Khali hare (Lepus capensis cheesmani, aka the sand hare) and the Arabian hare (Lepus capensis arabica). Hares can be found in the Al Tubayq Reserve and Majami'al-Hadb Reserve.

Ruppell's Fox

This small fox (Vulpes rueppellii), also known as Ruppell's Sand Fox, is adapted to desert terrain. It is sandy-colored and much smaller than the familiar red fox. There is little information on these foxes, and Canids.org believes they may be a threatened species, because of recreational activities that damage habitat (e.g., dune bashing), hunting, competition, and poisonings. These foxes can be found in the Al Tubayq Reserve and Majami'al-Hadb Reserve.

Nubian Ibex

Ibexes are a type of mountain goat. The Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana) is a relatively small ibex, with a sandy brown body, white underbelly, and legs with black-and-white markings. The animal can be found, not surprisingly, in the Ibex Reserve, as well as in the Al Tubayq Reserve and Raydah Reserve.

Arabian Leopard

The Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) is the smallest subspecies of leopard, and is highly endangered. It can be found in the mountains along the west coast, and has been seen in the Jabal Shadah Reserve.

Arabian Oryx

This white-coated endangered species (oryx leucoryx) is also known as the white oryx. It is the smallest of the oryx genus, and is of the same family (bovidae) as gazelles. The Arabian oryx ceased to exist in the wild in the 1970s, but captive-bred Arabian oryxes were reintroduced to the Mahazat as-Sayd Reserve approximately 20 years ago. They have also been seen in the 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid Reserve, and are being reintroduced in other reserves.

Ratel

The ratel, or honey badger (Mellivora capensis), looks somewhat more like a shabby-coated skunk (minus the white stripes on the back) than a badger. It is similar in size to the European badger. Ratels can be found in the Majami'al-Hadb Reserve.

Land, Air, and Sea

Saudi Arabia is also home to 60 lizard species, 34 snake species, nine turtle species, and seven amphibian species (four toad species and three frog species). Species of lizards include the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis), the spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia, aka Dhub), Zarudnyi's Worm Lizard (Diplometopon zarudnyi), the Yemen Monitor Lizard (Varanus yemenensis), 18 types of gecko, etc. The rare or endangered snake species include the Brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), elegant racer (Coluber elegantissimus), small- scaled burrowing asp (Atractaspis microlepidota), and desert cobra (Walterinnesia aegyptia).

Saudi Arabia is on important north-south and east-west migratory pathways, so during migrations, the Kingdom can be home to millions of birds. Approximately 180 species of bird are known to breed in the Kingdom, of which 11 are endemic species: Philby's rock partridge (Alectoris philbyi), Arabian red-legged partridge (Alectoris melanocephala), Arabian woodpecker (Dendrocopus dorae), South Arabian wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides), Arabian accentor (Prunella fagani), Yemen thrush (Turdus menachensis), Yemen warbler (Parisoma buryi), Arabian waxbill (Estrilda rufibarba), Yemen serin (Serinus menachensis), Arabian serin (Serinus rothschildi), and Yemen linnet (Carduelis yemensis). It is also believed that five species found in neighboring areas originate in Saudi Arabia, including: the Arabian warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena leucomelaena, aka Blanford's warbler), Abyssinian sunbird (Nectarinia habessinica), white-breasted white-eye (Zosterops abyssinica), Ruppell's weaver (Ploceus galbula), and Golden-winged grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus). Non- natives birds resident in the Kingdom include Houbara bustards, golden eagles, osprey, sooty falcons, flamingoes, and more.

Those who enjoy scuba diving can see abundant marine life in the Red Sea. Two of the current NCWCD reserves are marine reserves in the Red Sea, the Umm al Qamari Island Reserve and the Farasan Islands Reserve. In addition to fish and birds, the waters of the Red Sea are home to dugongs (Dugong dugon), sea turtles (e.g., the endangered hawksbill turtles [Eretmochelys imbricata] and green turtles [Chelonia mydas]), and manta rays (Manta birostris). The Arabian Gulf is home to one marine reserve, the Jubail Reserve.

Finally ...

Species are also being reintroduced to protected areas, and among these species are the endangered Arabian oryx, onagers, and ostriches (the indigenous ostrich species became extinct in the mid-20th century).

And as for the hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas), in addition to their roost along the cliffs outside Taif, you can find them in the Raydah Reserve.

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