Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder of the UAE once stated: “We have worked, since the established of our state, to protect the environment and wildlife. These achievements should be an incentive for us, particularly the Emirati youth, the future generation, to continue taking care of and keeping the environment safe and clean because if we don’t, we shall destroy the resources that Allah blessed us with; these resources are not ours alone, they also belong to our children and their children.” Sheikh Zayed believed in conservation and the environment. Early in his reign he adopted policies to ensure the development and protection of species. In 1968 he turned his attention to saving endangered ungulates and in particular to the Arabian Oryx.
The Arabian Oryx is the United Arab Emirates official national animal. It is the largest mammal living in the country’s desert regions. A desert antelope, the Arabian Oryx thrives in rugged wilderness and gravel plains. The Arabian Oryx features heavily in Emirati culture appearing in ancient sculptures in the Archaeological Park in Al Ain, in poetry and under the name of Maha, a woman’s name. By 1968 however the Arabian Oryx was facing the danger of extinction and the then ruler Sheikh Zayed founded the Al Ain as part of his many efforts to conserve the species. That same year, he ordered the plantation of millions of trees and lush greenery across the country as part of a country wide drive to create a more conducive environment for a variety of threatened species. The same year he also announced the established of a captive breeding programme. In 1978, four Arabian Oryx (2 males and 2 females) were brought to Sir Bani Yas which would eventually develop into one of the country’s largest nature reserves. Over time, the numbers of grew to 311 in 1999 and in 2015 to 500. Today the UAE is home to the largest herd in the world with around 10,000 living across the country.
In 2020, the increase in numbers has prompted the current president of the UAE Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to launch a release program and has ordered around 100 of the Arabian Oryx held in conservations to be freed in the Houbara Protected Area back into their natural habitat within larger reserves.
Visitors can see these majestic creatures at a number of large reserves in the UAE including on Sir Bani Yas, at the Arabian Oryx in Abu Dhabi, the Sharjah Breeding Center, the Al Ain Zoo and at the Wadi Al Safa Wildlife Centre and Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve in Dubai.