How new Netflix documentary ‘Horizon’ celebrates Saudi Arabia’s wealth of wildlife

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Updated 17 February 2024

How new Netflix documentary ‘Horizon’ celebrates Saudi Arabia’s wealth of wildlife

  • The film offers a captivating glimpse into Saudi Arabia’s unspoilt wilderness and protected sanctuaries
  • Konoz joined forces with the world’s best wildlife filmmakers, shooting in 28 locations across the Kingdom

RIYADH: Dazzling flamingos and mighty whale sharks are just some of the awe inspiring creatures making an appearance in “Horizon,” a new documentary produced by the Konoz Initiative, exploring Saudi Arabia’s ecological treasures and unique habitats.

The documentary, which is now available on streaming giant Netflix, is part of a collaboration between the Ministry of Media’s Center for Government Communication and the National Center for Wildlife to celebrate the rich natural diversity of the Kingdom.

Offering a captivating glimpse into Saudi Arabia’s unspoilt wilderness and protected sanctuaries, the documentary’s creators aim to raise awareness about the region’s endangered species and local efforts to rescue them from extinction.

The Konoz Initiative’s mission is to document the Kingdom’s cultural richness and to highlight the success stories of Saudi citizens by working with local companies to produce documentaries, short films, and animations.

For the making of Horizon, Konoz joined forces with some of the world’s best wildlife filmmakers, assembling a production team of 50 people, who shot segments in 28 different locations across the Kingdom.

From its vast deserts to its cool mountain forests, its colorful coral reefs to its verdant mangroves, Saudi Arabia’s diverse habitats are home to a huge variety of animals, including sea turtles, dugongs, and dolphins, ibex, oryx and the iconic Arabian leopard.

Emmy Award-winning British cinematographer Gavin Thurston, the documentary’s director of photography, is well known in the industry for his work in Human Planet (2011), the Private Life of Plants (1995), and David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020).

According to Thurston, wildlife documentaries of this kind typically take four years to produce. However, such was the level of interest, investment and talent involved in this project, the film was completed in roughly half that time.

“I suppose from the initial concept of the film through to final delivery was probably in the order of about 14 months,” he told Arab News.


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“So that’s incredibly quick. I know it sounds like a long time, but that’s incredibly quick for wildlife and natural history films. A very short turnaround.”

Thurston had never been to Saudi Arabia before working on the Horizon project. He said he had been blown away by the diversity of landscapes, having long thought of the Kingdom as little more than a vast open desert.

“I was quite surprised at the habitat variety,” he said.

“Of course, as a foreigner, I kind of expected a lot of sand dunes, but I was delighted to find those amazing rock sculptures and wadis and oases and palm trees and, you know, from the cold, misty tops of the mountains down in Abha, right down to the hot, dry deserts.

“Hopefully the biggest takeaway for the viewers of Horizon will be the variety that Saudi Arabia has to offer. You kind of get a stereotypical image of what it’s going to be like.

“But actually being there on the ground and seeing, for instance, the mangroves down on the southwest coast or knowing about the Red Sea, the variety of what the Red Sea has to offer like rocky canyons and wadis.”


“Horizon” features more than 20 species, including the hamadryas baboon, red-necked ostrich, and fennec fox.

It was produced by an international team specialized in wildlife documentaries, with input from 13 Saudi researchers.

The National Center for Wildlife is responsible for the protection and rehabilitation of marine ecosystems.

The NCW has developed a plan to preserve marine and coastal areas in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

Thurston hopes Horizon will encourage foreign travelers to visit the Kingdom to discover the tranquility of the desert for themselves.

“I’m hoping that it will actually inspire people to want to travel to that part of the world and experience all that for themselves, particularly the hospitality, but also just that there’s something actually really nice about the emptiness of the desert.

“I live in England and we now have nearly 70 million people in a country that’s probably half the size of Saudi Arabia. So, even though we can find wild spaces out of the reach of humans, it’s more difficult than in somewhere like Saudi Arabia.

“I think those remote places are becoming fewer and further between. So I would encourage people to go and visit it and enjoy the tranquility and peace.”



Indonesian pilgrims praise Makkah Route Initiative’s ‘seamless service’

Updated 18 May 2024

Indonesian pilgrims praise Makkah Route Initiative’s ‘seamless service’

  • Services provided include biometric scans, the provision of Hajj visas, and electronic luggage coding

MAKKAH: Hajj pilgrims departing from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, Indonesia have praised the services of the Makkah Route Initiative, which include assistance with check-in procedures at 12 dedicated counters in the airport, ensuring that all health requirements are met, and organizing delivery of their luggage to their accommodation in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Pilgrims expressed their gratitude for the help they received from authorities for the swift completion of their departure procedures on their journey to the Kingdom to perform Hajj, the SPA stated.

Indonesian couple Dewa Rosetta and Fatiha Munir told the SPA of their “extreme satisfaction” with the initiative, emphasizing its facilitation of travel procedures and time-saving benefits.

They also noted the Kingdom’s commitment to serving pilgrims from their home countries and its generosity in supporting Islamic countries and those in need, the SPA reported.

The couple extended well wishes to all involved in the initiative, and said it was a “memorable experience.”

The first Makkah Route Initiative flight from Indonesia departed from Juanda International Airport on May 12, carrying approximately 300 pilgrims.

The Makkah Route Initiative, implemented by the Saudi Ministry of Interior, is intended to streamline pilgrims’ journeys from airports in their home countries.

Launched in 2017 as part of Vision 2030, it involves a dedicated team that assists pilgrims, as well as buses to transport them safely and comfortably on their journey through Makkah and Madinah.

Other services provided include biometric scans, the provision of Hajj visas, and electronic luggage coding.

Kingdom assumes presidency of Arab League science, education body

Updated 18 May 2024

Kingdom assumes presidency of Arab League science, education body

  • Saudi Arabia pledges regional cooperation, backs Palestinian cause and cultural heritage

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has assumed the presidency of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization until 2026.

The official announcement was made on Friday during the 27th session of the ALECSO, which was held in Jeddah under the presidency of Saudi Arabia. During the session, Iraq handed over the presidency to the Kingdom.

In a speech delivered on behalf of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, Minister of Education and Chairman of the Saudi National Committee for Education, Culture and Science Yousef Al-Benyan welcomed the ministers and heads of national committees for education and science participating in the session.

Al-Benyan stressed the Kingdom’s humanitarian and fraternal support for the Gaza Strip within the framework of Arab cooperation and solidarity.

He affirmed Saudi Arabia’s support for Khalid Anan, the only Egyptian and Arab candidate for the position of director-general of the organization.

Al-Benyan concluded the speech by praising the efforts of Arab countries in supporting ALECSO, and building bridges of communication to achieve common regional goals.

Saudi Deputy Minister of Education Mohammed Al-Sudairi confirmed that holding the ALECSO meetings in Jeddah coincides with an increase in the role of Saudi national institutions to support the work of the organization.

He added that the number of Saudi initiatives exceeded 45, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s interest and belief in the importance of working with international organizations and its regional environment.

Iraqi Minister of Education Ibrahim Al-Jabouri, head of the 26th session, pointed out achievements made in the previous session, and various programs aimed at building bridges of cooperation between Arab culture and the rest of the world.

Director General of ALECSO Mohammed Ould Omar thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for hosting the event in Jeddah.

He presented the most prominent programs, initiatives, and projects implemented by the organization between the 26th and 27th sessions with international organizations, such as UNESCO, the work of the Arab Summit in Algeria, the Francophone Summit, the 13th Conference of Arab Ministers of Education in Rabat, and the International Conference on Adult Education, also held in Morocco.

At the end of the 27th session, ministers and heads of the Arab delegations agreed on the importance of supporting the Palestinian cause, condemning and denouncing the displacement that the Palestinian people, as well as the destruction of Palestinian antiquities.

They also addressed the importance of supporting culture, education, innovation, and science in the Arab world. 

Pakistan praises Saudi Arabia over facilitating Hajj for its nationals

Updated 18 May 2024

Pakistan praises Saudi Arabia over facilitating Hajj for its nationals

  • Pakistani pilgrims have been arriving in Madinah since May 9 when pre-Hajj flight operations were launched
  • Pakistani minister is currently visiting Madinah to oversee Hajj arrangements for his nationals

RIYADH: Pakistani Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Chaudhry Salik Hussain expressed his appreciation to Saudi Arabia for the exceptional services and facilities provided to Pakistani pilgrims who will be taking part in Hajj this year.

Minister Hussain’s remarks came in a statement delivered in Madinah, where he is currently visiting to oversee Hajj arrangements for Pakistani pilgrims, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of whom 63,805 will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s Hajj is expected to run from June 14-19.

Pakistani pilgrims have been arriving in Madinah since May 9 when pre-Hajj flight operations were launched. Over 20,000 Pakistani pilgrims have so far arrived in Madinah under the government scheme.

The Pakistani official particularly praised the Saudi leadership for launching the Makkah Route Initiative at Karachi International Airport, mirroring the program already established at Islamabad International Airport.

Hussain said he was confident the initiative would be extended to Lahore Airport in the coming year.

KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Yemen and Greece

Updated 18 May 2024

KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Yemen and Greece

  • 26 neurosurgeries were done in Sudan
  • 330 relief trucks delivered 5,752 tonnes of aid to Yemen

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s aid agency KSrelief continued its projects in Sudan, Yemen, and Greece.

In Sudan, KSrelief implemented a medical volunteer project for neurosurgery and spine surgery from May 12 to May 17.

About 15 volunteer specialists from various medical fields assisted in performing 26 surgeries, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

In Yemen, KSrelief provided a convoy of 330 relief trucks, which delivered over 5,752 tonnes of critical supplies to people across 14 Yemeni governorates.  

The aid included food, medical supplies, and shelter materials. 

Additionally, KSrelief donated 10 tonnes of dates to Greece, which were presented by Saudi Ambassador to Greece Saad Al-Ammar to Athens.

How forest conservation is helping Saudi Arabia achieve its green objectives

Updated 18 May 2024

How forest conservation is helping Saudi Arabia achieve its green objectives

  • By planting trees and protecting forests, the Kingdom promotes biodiversity and sustainable development
  • Forests provide habitats for hundreds of animal species and play a pivotal role in combating climate change 

JEDDAH: With its low annual rainfall, much of Saudi Arabia’s vast landscape is covered by desert, broken by occasional oases. In its mountainous regions, valleys, and along its coastline, however, the Kingdom is home to multiple forest ecosystems.

Forests play a pivotal role in combating climate change by acting as carbon sinks — storing carbon both above and below ground, thereby extracting it from the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Their significance in climate change adaptation and mitigation is also underscored by their role in creating local microclimates, providing habitats for a wealth of biodiversity, locking in freshwater resources, and preventing flash floods, landslides, and soil degradation.

Riyadh residents take part in a tree-planting project as part of the Greener Home initiative. (@Riyadh_Green/File)

Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification is at the forefront of implementing the Kingdom’s strategic goals outlined in Vision 2030.

“Forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change,” Samir Malaika, assistant director-general of the general administration of forests at NCVC told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia’s dry climate and geography hinder its efforts to conserve forests and promote plant growth.

“With most areas receiving minimal rainfall, forests struggle to thrive. The escalating impact of climate change exacerbates environmental stressors, hampering forest growth and regeneration efforts.”

The NCVC aims to elevate living standards by reducing pollution and facilitating the restoration of degraded environments. It is also committed to building resilience against natural hazards and defenses against harmful pests that could pose risks to vegetation.

Simultaneously, it prioritizes the sustainable development of the Kingdom’s natural resources. With seven ongoing initiatives, it aims to ensure the responsible and lasting utilization of resources in line with the nation’s sustainability objectives.

Among the center’s key initiatives under the Saudi Green Initiative is a scheme to plant some 10 billion trees — representing a significant step in the Kingdom’s reforestation effort.

The initiative for forest management and sustainable development by 2030 underscores a long-term commitment to nurturing and preserving woodland environments.

The phased approach to preserving and restoring vegetation in pasture areas reflects a strategic focus on addressing the specific ecological challenges faced by different ecosystems.


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Furthermore, the initiative for developing vegetation and infrastructure for 50 national parks highlights the importance of creating protected natural spaces while promoting biodiversity and ecotourism.

Moreover, the initiative to plant 7 million wild trees in royal reserves demonstrates a targeted effort to enhance the natural habitats within these pristine areas.

Engagement by the public and private sectors in vegetation development and combating desertification underscores the collaborative approach needed in order to achieve sustainable environmental goals.

One initiative of the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification with the aim of achieving sustainable forest management is to tap local community participation in agroforestry projects and by promotingecotourism. (Photo Courtesy: NCVC)

By harnessing the collective resources and expertise of various stakeholders, these initiatives aim to create a resilient and thriving ecosystem that benefits both present and future generations.

According to Malaika, Saudi Arabia boasts a forest coverage spanning approximately 2,768,050 hectares, primarily concentrated in the southern and southwestern regions, along riverbeds, and on the coastlines of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

These forest ecosystems are categorized into three primary types: mountain, valley, and mangrove.

Mountain forests

Mountain forests are predominantly located in the region spanning the Hijaz Mountains in Taif to Jazan in the south. These areas have neutral soil acidity and receive the highest rainfall and humidity levels, particularly evident in the southwest with denser forest cover.

The juniper tree has proudly stood as a symbol of picturesque beauty in Al-Baha region, adorning its slopes and mountain peaks with vibrant green hues. (SPA)

Forests are made up of several Juniperus plant species, typically found at altitudes of 2,000 meters and above. Additionally, Olea chrysophylla forests, characterized by wild olive trees with golden leaves, thrive at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,000 meters.

At lower altitudes, between 1,000 to 1,500 meters, Acacia plant species dominate the landscape.

Notably, terraced agriculture is a common feature of mountainous regions, facilitating crop fruit tree cultivation while aiding in water retention and soil protection. However, improper management can lead to land degradation, adversely affecting the surrounding forests.


• Saudi Arabia is home to more than 63 unique ecosystems, ranging from mountainous regions to coastal lowlands.

• The Kingdom boasts a diverse array of wildlife, including 78 terrestrial mammal species and 499 species of bird.

• Coral reefs in Saudi Arabian waters host an impressive 266 species, contributing to marine biodiversity.

• With more than 6,500 species, Saudi Arabia’s invertebrate population testifies to the richness of its ecosystems.

• Saudi Arabia boasts three distinct forest ecosystems: mountain forest, valley forest, and mangrove forest.

Valley forests

Saudi Arabia’s topography features 179 valleys distributed across the country. Valley forests, mainly situated in semi-arid regions, are characterized by species such as Acacia ehrenbergiana, Acacia tortilis, Maerua crassifolia, several species of Commiphora, and Salvadora persica.

Additionally, oases and valleys are abundant with various Acacia species, Ziziphus spina-christi, Salvadora persica, Haloxylon persicum, trees, shrubs, and Hyphaene thebaica. 

Saudi Arabia’s topography features 179 valleys distributed across the country. (AN file photo)

Mangrove forests

Mangroves and coastal ecosystems tolerant to saltwater are predominantly located along the Red Sea coast, with other stretches found along the Arabian Gulf coast.

Despite the lack of comprehensive forest data, studies indicate significant degradation of the mangrove ecosystem.

Avicennia marina is the most prevalent species in mangrove forests, with Rhizophora mucronata being less common.

Besides these natural forests, the Kingdom is also host to many urban and cultivated woodlands in its parks and residential neighborhoods, planted to provide shade, reduce temperatures, and beautify city streets.

Despite the Kingdom’s diverse ecosystems, it faces significant challenges in preserving and expanding its forests, including limited resources, poor local management, insufficient nursery production to meet seedling demand, a lack of awareness about dumping and unauthorized grazing, and other irresponsible human activities.

The Saudi National Center for Wildlife is working to protect, develop, and restore ecosystems and biodiversity around the Kingdom, in addition to addressing risks related to plant and animal life.

Red Sea Global implemented a nursery project with the goal to have 50 million trees of Mangroves by 2030. (Red Sea Global photo/File)

According to Abdulmanea Al-Qahtani, invertebrates department director at the NCW, the Kingdom has 63 distinct ecosystems, encompassing a diverse range of landscapes, including mountains, plains, deserts, valleys, forests, seas, wetlands, plateaus, coastal areas, and marshes, all teeming with biodiversity.

The Kingdom is home to 78 species of terrestrial mammal, 499 species of bird, 136 species of reptile, seven species of amphibian, and more than 6,500 species of invertebrate.

In its waters, the Kingdom also offers habitats to 19 species of marine mammal, eight species of freshwater fish, 1,248 species of saltwater fish, and 266 species of coral

Unknown to many, Saudi Arabia is home to 78 species of terrestrial mammal, 499 species of bird, 136 species of reptile, seven species of amphibian, and more than 6,500 species of invertebrate. (NCW collage image)

The Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 under the Vision 2030 framework, aims to tackle threats to this rich biodiversity and foster sustainable development.

Key goals include transitioning to a sustainable economy by reducing carbon emissions, boosting renewable energy production, and bolstering conservation efforts.

Additionally, the initiative aims to enhance environmental protection, promote green technologies, and create green jobs to drive economic diversification and growth.