Harrat Al-Harrah
First National Reserve in Saudi Arabia
by Prof. Iyad A. Nader, NCWCD

Within the last 50 years, considerable changes have occurred in the landscape, the natural habitat and the wildlife of Saudi Arabia. Field vehicles, modern firearms, ambitious development programmes in various fields, especially in the last two decades, have left their clear marks on the country. Moreover, there is an increasing threat to the country's magnificent marine resources, which are amongst the finest in the world.

Several animals have either completely disappeared or suffered severe population declines, due to over-hunting and habitat destruction. The Arabian oryx, Asiatic cheetah, ostrich, three species of gazelles, Arabian leopard, together with Arabian and the Houbara Bustards, all provide vivid examples of this process of wildlife depletion.

Concerned with the decline of the natural habitat and wildlife, the government of Saudi Arabia established the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) in May 1986.

The primary objectives of the Commission, as stated in Article 3 of its mandate, are that it shall be mainly concerned with plants and animals, both marine and terrestrial wildlife in the Kingdom; the preservation, protection and development of such wildlife populations; carrying out biological scientific research and applying the results to ensure an ecological balance.

In order to fulfill these goals, the Commission has adopted the following four strategies: 1.Propagation of endangered wildlife species; 2. Protection of natural habitat; 3. Adoption of laws and regulations related to wildlife; 4. Education and public awareness.

In establishing protected areas, the Commission aims to protect what is left of wildlife in these areas; reintroduce some of the rare and endangered species which are being propagated at its three research centres situated at Taif, Thumamah and Qassim; regulate the utilization of the natural plant cover in these areas, and protect and develop it.

Protected areas are chosen after careful assessment of their physical and biological features. Presently, there are 11 of these reserves, including eight terrestrial and three marine reserves. A System Plan of Protected Areas has been developed. It envisages the establishment of 103 reserves both terrestrial and marine, representing almost all the different biotopes within the Kingdom.

The Harrat al-Harrah protected area was established in 1987. The first area to be so declared by the Commission, it is located in the northern part of the Kingdom, east of Wadi Serhan and has its northern boundary along the Iraqi-Jordanian borders. Harrat al-Harrah lies to the east of the Arabian Shield formation, in an area of ancient volcanic activity, a landscape dominated by numerous uplifted extinct volcanic cones and black basaltic boulders of the middle Miocene dating from 2-50 million years ago. The total area of the reserve is 13,775 sq. km, mainly undulating desert steppes, volcanic rock jabals and some sabkhas, lying at about 850 m above sea level, with Jabal Liss the highest point at about 1,120m.

The weather in the reserve is generally very hot in the summer, averaging 27.8C, and very cold in the winter, averaging 6.8C. Frost can occur in mid-winter and temperatures may drop to below freezing. Relative humidity is low throughout the year as the reserve is far from the sea. Rain is sparse, falling during the autumn, winter and early spring.

The remarkably rich vegetation cover of Harrat al-Harrah is composed of a variety of perennials and annuals, more abundant in the wadis where water collects. The number of species recorded from this reserve is about 240, belonging to 32 families.

The perennials are represented by small stands of tamarisk bushes, Tamarix arborea, and about 20 species of shrubs, including rimth, Haloxylon salicoricum, farss, Salsola tetrandra, rautha, Salsola chaudharyi, Slavia spinosa, dumran, Traganum nudatum, shih, Artemisia sieberi and lowisa, Amygdalus arabica.

The annuals are represented by flowering species, including Papaver glaucum, Citrullus colocynthis, wild iris, Iris sisyrinchium, Plantago alabicans, Horwoodia dicksoniae, Anthemis deserti, Malva parviflora, Schimpera arabica, Matthola longipetala, Adonis dentata, Dianthus judaicus, wild pea, Astragalus trimestris, catchfly, Silene coniflora ,and grasses, mostly Bromus species.

A number of animal species are found in the reserve. Recorded mammals include the rare sand gazelle, Gazella subgutturosa; grey wolf, Canis lupus; red fox, Vulpes vulpes; caracal, Felis caracal; sand cat, Felis margarita; striped hyaena, Hyaena hyaena; Cape hare, Lepus capensis; lesser jerboa, Jaculus jaculus; and a jerd, Meriones sp. .

The reserve offers habitat for more than 50 species of birds of which at least 20 of them are breeding there, including Houbara Bustard, the Golden Eagle, Barbary Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser, two species of partridges, two species of owls, nine species of larks, Stone Curlew, and a variety of passerine birds.
Lizards and snakes have also been recorded within the reserve including: geckos, dhub or spiny-tailed lizards, agamid lizards, desert monitor or wurral, Acanthodectylus sp; a viper and a whip snake, Psammopphys shokari.

Reintroduction into this reserve of the Arabian oryx and the Red-necked Ostrich is under consideration by the Commission.

Twenty eight rangers based at eight stations have been employed to keep unauthorized intruders and poachers out of the reserve. Ground rangers are supported by aerial surveillance from sunrise to sunset, using lightweight aircraft. Close contact between the aerial crew and the ground rangers is maintained to ensure very efficient wildlife control in the area.
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Arabian Wildlife. Volume 2, Number 2
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