How development is going hand in hand with conservation in Saudi Arabia

The Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif is just one of the many beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia’s rewilding initiatives. (RCU)
Short Url
Updated 23 September 2022

How development is going hand in hand with conservation in Saudi Arabia

  • The Arabian leopard is just one face of the Kingdom’s commitment to the regeneration of its landscapes and wildlife

LONDON: It’s not every day that one government takes the trouble to congratulate another on the birth of a pair of cats.

But a very special message last month from the US embassy in Riyadh celebrated the arrival, not of two ordinary felines, but a pair of female leopard cubs, symbols of one of the most ambitious captive breeding programs in the world.

“Congratulations Saudi Arabia on your newest and most adorable residents,” said an embassy tweet on Aug. 18. The Royal Commission for AlUla, it added, “is doing an impressive job working to save the critically endangered Arabian leopard.”

It certainly is. 

The Arabian leopard has graced the wild landscapes of Saudi Arabia for millennia. (Alamy)

The RCU was established in 2017 to preserve and develop AlUla, a region of outstanding natural, historic, and cultural significance in northwest Saudi Arabia, as a global destination that people will come to live, work and visit.

Since then, it has launched a range of initiatives in fields including archaeology, tourism, culture, education, and the arts “reflecting a commitment to meeting the economic diversification, local community empowerment, and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program.”

Part of the heritage of AlUla, and Saudi Arabia in general, is the Arabian leopard, which graced the wild landscapes of Saudi Arabia for millennia. 

A Baboon is pictured in the southern Saudi city of Abha in Asir province. (Getty Images/AFP)

Images of the animal, dating back to between 6,000 and 11,000 years ago, can be found among the thousands of petroglyphs hand carved into the rocks in Saudi Arabia’s Hail region, adopted by UNESCO in 2015 as a World Heritage Site of “outstanding universal value.”

Today, after centuries of persecution at the hands of farmers and hunters, and the steady loss of habitat to modern development, the Arabian leopard is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” — just one short step away from extinction in the wild.

Sightings of this magnificent animal are incredibly rare. There could be fewer than 100 in the entire Arabian Peninsula, where they are found mainly in the Dhofar mountains of Oman, and in Saudi Arabia, the leopard is feared to be all but extinct.

The RCU plans to change that by breeding sufficient numbers of the animal in captivity for release into the mountains of AlUla, a natural habitat where they once roamed for thousands of years.

The two cubs whose births were celebrated last month were the latest of 18 born so far at the RCU’s Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif.

AlUla is home to five nature reserves, covering an area of 12,500 square kilometers, all regarded as possible future habitats for Arabian leopards. Anticipating the release of the first leopards into the wild in 2030, the RCU is busy reintroducing native plants to the area to provide food for herbivores, the leopard’s main prey. 

Hundreds of animals, including the Arabian oryx, sand gazelles, and Nubian ibex, have already been released into the reserves, where they are establishing sustainable colonies.

The Arabian leopard may be the dramatic face of the Kingdom’s commitment to the conservation and regeneration of its landscapes and wildlife, but it is just one of the many beneficiaries of the country’s rewilding initiatives.

There are fewer than 2,500 of the The Rhim, Sand Gazelle or Slender-horned Gazelle in the wild. (Shutterstock)

There are currently 14 protected landscapes in Saudi Arabia, covering an area of more than 82,000 square kilometers — almost the size of its neighbor the UAE. Under the recently launched Saudi Green Initiative, plans are underway to designate up to 30 percent of the Kingdom's territory – more than 640,000 square kilometers – as protected areas. 

The existing protected areas are already home to a bewildering array of wildlife, including the Arabian wolf, striped hyena, red-necked ostrich, Arabian oryx, reem, Idmi gazelle, baboon, caracal, and many types of birds, such as osprey, houbara bustard, and pink-backed pelican, and three different species of fox — red, sand, and Ruppell’s.

In Saudi Arabia, development is going hand in hand with conservation. For example, a commitment to environmental sustainability is woven into the DNA of the Red Sea Development Company, which was set up in 2018 to develop a flagship international tourism destination over an area of 28,000 square kilometers, including 90-plus islands, on Saudi Arabia’s west coast.

The region is home to rare species, including dugongs, wildcats, and green and hawksbill turtles. A lagoon at the heart of the project contains 175 different species of coral and 195 species of fish. It is a vital habitat for endangered seabirds, such as the sooty falcon and crab plover. 

Part of the heritage of AlUla, and Saudi Arabia in general, is the Arabian leopard. (SPA)

“Preservation of these habitats and species is central to the project’s development as 75 percent of the islands will be left untouched with nine designated as special conservation zones,” says the RSDC.

Nature is also an overriding concern at NEOM, another of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects on the Red Sea. Here, even as the dream of creating a completely sustainable destination for the world takes shape, the top commitment is preserving 95 percent of the beautiful environment in which it will be set, from the crystal-clear seas and pristine beaches to the awe-inspiring deserts and mountains.

The waters off most of Saudi Arabia teem with precious wildlife, including five turtle species. Three of them — Olive Ridley, loggerhead, and the leatherback — are designated as vulnerable. Two — the green and hawksbill — are regarded as endangered. 

Some Nubian ibexes have also been released into reserves in the Kingdom. (Shutterstock)

Off the country’s Arabian Gulf coast, the islands of Karan and Jurayad are primary and protected nesting sites for the hawksbill and green turtles, which also thrive on the Red Sea at Ras Baridi, Farasan Island, Shakir Islands, Ras Al-Shaaban, Jabal Hassan, and Sanafir Island.

By setting ecological standards for development, and through a series of rehabilitation programs and research studies, the Saudi National Center for Wildlife is protecting these habitats as part of the Kingdom’s broader commitment to preserving and restoring its marine biodiversity.

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Updated 28 September 2022

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

  • Kingdom’s key role in regional publishing outlined on conference final day

RIYADH: The second edition of the International Publishers Conference held in Riyadh ended on Wednesday with sessions focusing on the growing demand for audiobooks, the impact of technology and data services, and the search for ways to innovate and renew education.

The event, which was organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, introduced a session themed “Stages of the Global Book Publishing Industry.”

Abdul Karim Al-Aqeel, president of the Saudi Publishing Association, told the session that the Kingdom plays an important role in the growth of the regional publishing business.

Saudi Arabia “has 300 publishing houses, 1,000 individual writers, and reading is popular among 31 percent of the population,” he said.

The two-day conference was attended by Secretary-General of the Indonesian Publishers Association, Mohammed Radwan. 

The event held eight interactive sessions and five workshops to discuss key aspects of the book and publishing industry, review future prospects and read current market trends.

Mohammed Zatara, founder of Wajeez for Audiobooks, said that the format helped to expand public knowledge “because an audiobook can be accessed any time and any place, whether one is going to work or working out at the gym.”

Sebastian Bond, head of the Middle East and Northern Africa at Storytel, said improving the audiobook business requires collaboration between traditional publishers and their audio counterparts to ensure enriching and enlightening content.

Ibraheem Al-Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing, told Arab News that the standard of authorship is “extremely high in the domains of creative books, as well as professional and educational books.” 

Ibraheem Al Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing. (Supplied)

However, he believes that “this trend does not exist in the market due to the difficulty of publishing houses to absorb it and because readers are not attracted by the new authors.”

Al-Sinan said that authors have become part of the so-called content industry, particularly in the film-writing, series and marketing content sectors, “because of high financial return” in these fields.

Publishing has expanded recently with the inclusion of audiobooks and electronic books, “because of the society’s interest in new audio media such as podcasts,” he added.

Audiobooks are recognized as the fastest-growing and most acceptable format, but “are still not as popular as paper books,” Al-Sinan said.

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association, believes that the presence of “podcasts” as a content channel has had an impact on the widespread and acceptance of audiobooks. 

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association. (Supplied)

Alsalem predicted a bright future for publishing in the region, particularly in translation and better reader access via traditional and digital channels, indicating “A promising future for publication.”

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution, said that artificial intelligence is “inevitably coming,” and that it will help publishers to upgrade their profession and professional development. 

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

He believes that while audiobooks are now expensive to produce, “one day they will be the basic material on which the writer relies.”

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution, said that the publishing future is thriving locally and regionally because of local and international book fairs, which have helped considerably in the evolution of the publishing sector. 

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

Salih Al-Hammad, founder of Rashm House for Publishing and Distribution, said that although audiobooks are having a growing impact, “paper books have kept their shine and quality.”

He said: “When we talk about audiobooks today, we talk about a few categories of readers associated with the concept of a detained reader, any reader who is in a hospital, on a train, or on an airplane. Book authorship has gone through phases, and books will remain and won’t disappear, just like radios remained when TVs were invented.”


British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

Updated 28 September 2022

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

  • Explorer’s 1,300 km journey a century ago led to lifelong friendship with Ibn Saud, Kingdom’s first ruler
  • The expedition was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, and the team includes Philby’s granddaughter

LONDON: An Arabian desert expedition aims to retrace the steps of a famous journey by a British explorer who served as an adviser to the first ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, on Wednesday. It was her first public engagement since the death this month of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from the Gulf coast village of Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud, the Kingdom’s first ruler.

The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing. It is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans and the team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem.

After reaching Riyadh they will travel west on the final stage to Jeddah, which is likely to present the greatest challenge because of harsh winds and rough terrain, including sand and loose rock.

Philby was sent to Arabia during the First World War to assist T. E. Lawrence as part of the British efforts to foment an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time stretched across the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Yemen.

His journey led to groundbreaking cartographic and natural discoveries, and resulted in significant changes to the political landscape of the Middle East.

Philby, who would later reside in Riyadh, developed a close relationship with Ibn Saud, who at the time was a significant tribal leader. Philby adopted local dress and customs, and converted to Islam, which helped him play a key role in the events that led to the Arab Revolt and the creation of Saudi Arabia.

Evans said of Philby: “He is considered by many as one of the greatest early explorers of Arabia. He not only set out across uncharted land but took time to record everything he saw.”

Reem Philby said that she is drawn to “the stillness and constant movement of the desert at the same time.”

She added: “Just observing how nature controls everything in harmony and how we are the ones that have to adapt, makes one very humble.”

Princess Anne said: “How did people live in the environment that he crossed? What was different about it? And actually, what’s perhaps even more important in modern terms, is to understand how much has changed compared to what existed before.”

The Arabian landscape has long attracted interested intrepid Britons, including explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, who commended the tribes he encountered during his crossing of the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter for their loyalty and generosity.

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

Updated 28 September 2022

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

MAKKAH: Hajj and Umrah government officials have alerted pilgrims around the world about an important update and name change to a key services and permits app for the Two Holy Mosques.

Launching the newly named Nusuk app, an update on the Eatmarna platform, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said visitors and worshippers would be able to access a range of e-services including applying for a visa and booking hotels and flights.

Hajj and Umrah services adviser, Ahmed Saleh Halabi, told Arab News: “During the past few years, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has been keen to switch to the e-government system to add ease to the experience of pilgrims and visitors. As such, their experience will be forever remembered as an enriched religious journey.”

He pointed out that the portal allowed users to select from a list of service packages.

“The program will provide the pilgrims with a cultural and religious journey, while reflecting the bright and civilized side of the Kingdom in the Two Holy Mosques,” he added.

The platform has been designed to provide services and information to help worshippers perform rituals with ease and is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 objectives to improve service offerings and the quality of religious experience.

Ahmed Bajaiffer, an investor in Umrah companies, said: “Nusuk is the representation of the strong will of the Kingdom’s leaders and their loyalty toward Muslims, citizens, and residents.”

Nusuk has been launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website, Visit Saudi Arabia.

Head of the World Hajj and Umrah Convention, Mohsin Tutla, told Arab News: “What Nusuk has developed resonates with the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation’s vision toward enhancing the pilgrim’s experience.

“When traveling to a foreign country, visitors may often feel anxiety or even fear; for many, Arabic is not their first language, and trying to make sense of the cultural practices of a new country at times can be difficult.”

Via the platform, Hajj and Umrah performers can receive visit or Umrah visas with the option to buy a service package and pay electronically.

“The launch of this service sends a strong message with it: We are listening, we are caring, and we will provide the solutions to continually enrich your experience, and we do it with passion, as the Kingdom sees serving pilgrims as a privilege and obligation,” Tutla added.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, more than 21.5 million Umrah and Hajj performers had registered with the Eatmarna app since its launch, and it has issued 6.4 million permits to visit and pray at Al-Rawdah Al-Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on appointment as prime minister

Updated 28 September 2022

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on appointment as prime minister

  • Global leaders wish crown prince success, hope ties between their countries will continue to grow
  • Pakistani PM wishes further success and prosperity to Saudi Arabia under new prime minister

RIYADH: Arab and Muslim leaders have congratulated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.  

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum congratulated the crown prince on his appointment.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani wished the crown prince success and hoped the relations between the two brotherly countries will continue to develop and grow. 

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa also sent a similar cable. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “On this occasion, I congratulate His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, wishing him further success and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia further welfare and prosperity under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.”

Deal signed to establish Saudi-Senegalese Business Council

Updated 29 September 2022

Deal signed to establish Saudi-Senegalese Business Council

RIYADH: The Federation of Saudi Chambers and Senegal’s National Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture signed a cooperation agreement to establish a joint Saudi-Senegalese Business Council as part of endeavors to enhance trade movement between Saudi Arabia and Senegal as well as increase the commercial and investment cooperation volume between the two countries.

The signing ceremony was held in Dakar in the presence of Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad Aissata Tall Sall. The agreement was signed by FSC Vice Chairman Nizar Al-Harkan and President of Senegal’s National Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Serigne Mboup.

Al-Harkan said that the agreement was a result of ongoing efforts, joint action and Saudi-Senegalese will to increase the volume of commercial and investment exchange between the two countries.

He added that the council will be tasked with several commercial and promotional activities in the fields of commerce, investment, services, industries, training, healthcare and IT, among other industries that are targeted as part of the economic cooperation agenda. The council will provide a platform for Saudi and Senegalese businesspeople to promote their activities and enter into commercial partnerships.

The council will also seek to open up new areas for economic cooperation, facilitate ongoing interaction between the Saudi and Senegalese business sectors, work to remove challenges and constraints, exchange information on markets and investment opportunities, enable business and investment partnerships, refer recommendations to competent authorities in the two countries to improve economic relations, as well as encourage participation in exhibitions, forums, exchange visits and trade delegations.

The business council will consist of Saudi and Senegalese business representatives interested in investment and trade. It will hold periodic meetings in Riyadh and Dakar, where opportunities for trade and investment between the two countries will be discussed.

Trade volume between the Kingdom and Senegal reached about SR185 million ($49 million) in 2021, with the two countries encouraging their private sectors to take advantage of business opportunities and investment partnerships.