Grazing threatening Dhofar Mountains ecosystem, food chain

Muscat - 

Unrestrained grazing by livestock is threatening the biodiverse ecosystems of the Dhofar Mountains, with impacts noticeable across the food chain. With approximately 633,000 livestock heads, of which about 80 per cent are cattle and goats (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2013), grazing in Dhofar has reached unsustainable levels resulting in an 46.6 per cent annual deficit of livestock feed in the governorate.

These are some of the concerns which Lawrence Ball, a freelance biologist, has chosen to study as part of his Master’s degree programme at University of Exeter, UK.

In his research titled 'Socio-ecological coincidence of livestock grazing activity with biodiversity distributions at Wadi Sayq, Dhofar', Ball will obtain information on grazing activity through participatory appraisal methods with local livestock owners.

Existing biodiversity data sets collected by two previous research expeditions in 2012 and 2013 by British Exploring Society, along with Office for Conservation of Environment (OCE), where Ball headed the science programme, will be used to investigate coincidence.

The aim of the research, said Ball, is to understand the spatial (where) and temporal (when) characteristics of grazing activity at Wadi Sayq, and the factors that dictate this. “This information is being collected using an electronic tablet device loaded with ArcGIS data collection software. Using specialist GIS techniques, it will be possible to investigate coincidence of livestock with wildlife species and biodiversity hot spots. Information is also being collected on livestock depredation and other problems encountered by livestock owners,” he said.

Results of the research would be useful for conservation planning at Wadi Sayq and could provide a framework for a replicable approach across the Dhofar Mountains, added Ball. “This research does not aim to find a solution to the conflict between grazing and biodiversity, it simply aims to gather further information on the human geography to inform future research and policy.”

 Ball is speaking to as many livestock owners as possible in five villages surrounding the wadi. “I am currently ahead of schedule due to the kind hospitality and interest of the local communities, and assistance I am receiving from rangers at the OCE.

 “There is no doubt that restricting grazing activity in the wadi would have extremely positive impacts on the biodiversity. It is also important to consider the neighbouring wadis and hillsides as biodiversity corridors, fundamental for the long term survival of the Arabian leopard. However, Wadi Sayq and specifically Khawr Kharfut are also a valuable grazing resource for local communities,” he said.

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