OCE calls for immediate protection of Wadi Sayq in Oman

The place faces risk from increased human activity (Source: Lawrence Ball)

Muscat - 

Wadi Sayq, the last remaining stronghold for Arabian leopard in the western Dhofar mountains, and the most verdant and biodiverse terrestrial environment in Oman, is in need of immediate protection from modern development in the area, feels the Office for Conservation of Environment (OCE), Diwan of Royal Court. 

Two years of surveys (2012-13) done in collaboration with OCE and British Exploring Society (BES) have revealed that the catchment area of the wadi is home to diverse bird, reptile and large mammal communities.

Dr Mansoor al Jahdhami, senior specialist, environmental studies, OCE, said, “The area is unique, pristine and untouched by human interference till now.” But there is increasing pressure for a road to be constructed between the coastal towns on either side of the wadi. “Apart from directly affecting the ecosystem, the road will provide easy access which will result in depletion of the habitat due to increased human activity, pollution and over-grazing. So, the road will be a boon for transportation but its affect will be irreversible on the natural environment of the area,” he said.

 

Lawrence Ball, a freelance biologist who ran the science programme on two expeditions for BES in collaboration with OCE at Jabal Qamar in Wadi Sayq, said that depletion of resources at the base of the food chain could eventually affect the survival of the flagship species for conservation in Oman; the critically endangered Arabian leopard.

Building on the previous year’s research themes, the 2013 survey focused on large and small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and bats. With the help of leopard experts Hadi al Hikmani and Khalid al Hikmani, 26 camera traps were set up throughout the wadi system. “The results were very impressive as spectacular footage of the Arabian leopard as well as striped hyena, caracal and Arabian wolf were captured,” said Ball.

The small mammal research found an abundance of Arabian spiny mouse, an important prey species for the leopard. Eighty hours of bird surveys revealed over 70 bird species, several of which are on the verge of extinction. Several reptile species endemic to the Dhofar mountains were recorded including the rarely seen Thomas’s Racer, a stunning orange and black banded snake.

“Our reports do make suggestions for improved conservation in the area. For example, reduced livestock grazing in the wadi system, perhaps restricted to the less biodiverse valley shoulders/plateaus, would allow for regrowth of ground level and understory vegetation, providing microhabitats and food sources for wildlife as well as improving the soil quality and its ability to retain the monsoon runoff. Consistent evidence (over two years) that the wadi is important for diverse bird, reptile and large mammal communities provides a good basis to conserve the area,” said Ball.

Dr Jahdhami added that a proposal has been made to bring the area under protection and the surveys would further help throw light on the need to conserve the area. 

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