Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ostrich and Oryx Extinction in Saudi Arabia

We usually don't think of ostriches and oryxes when we hear of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, they are or were living there. Wilfred Thesiger reports the following from his second crossing of the Sands in the western part of the Empty Quarter [1]:
... finding some broken ostrich eggs, bin Kabina and Amair [Bedu travel companions] argued whether ostriches were lawful food, a purely academic point since ostriches had been extinct in southern Arabia for more than fifty years, although a few survived until recently in the Wadi Sirham in northern Arabia. When I was in Syria a Bedu told me that the Rualla had shot one there just before the war [World War II]; it may well have been the last of them. My companions stopped to show me what their tracks looked like, saying that their grandfathers had known these birds. I had seen plenty of the tracks of the African ostrich, a larger bird than the Arabian, in the Sudan, and the copies which Amair made in the sand were correct. It is sad to think that the Arabian oryx and rim are also doomed as soon as cars penetrate into the southern desert. Unfortunately oryx prefer the hard, flat sands and gravel plains to the heavy dunes. Since they differ from the four species to be found in Africa, it means that yet another kind of animal will soon be extinct. In Saudi Arabia during the last few years even gazelle have became rare. Hunting-parties scour the plains in cars, returning with lorry-loads of gazelle which they have run down and butchered.

Does anybody still keep track of ostriches and oryxes in Saudi Arabia or is their trail into the future lost?

References and more:

[1] Wilfred Thesiger: Arabian Sands (1959). Reprinted in Penguin Travel Library, 1991; pages 231 and 232.

More on animals in the Sands: Find out what animal circled their camp site or how to revive an exhausted camel.

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