Catastrophic die-off of globally threatened Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle in the fenced protected area of the arid central Saudi Arabia.
J. Threatened Taxa 2 (2): 577-684.
A large number of die-off of globally threatened Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx), and Arabian Sand Gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica) were recorded from 1999 to 2008 in fenced Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area (PA) in western-central Saudi Arabia. Mortalities of animals have been recorded during summer months when the rainfall is negligible or insignificant. Deaths were due to starvation because of reduced availability, accessibility and quality of food plants in the area. In total, 560 oryxand 2815 sand gazelle deaths were recorded since the reintroduction projects began till the end of 2008. Mortalities of animals were higher in 1999-2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Grazing of oryxhabitat depends on rainfall and animals move over great distances in response to rain. The fence around Mahazat as-Sayd PA prevents natural movements of animals, and artificially concentrates the ungulate populations into possibly unfavourable habitat. The sand gazelle is a highly gregarious and migratory species, moving long distances in search of good quality pastures. Populations of sand gazelle in Central Asia are also known to migrate over large distances, covering several hundred kilometers. It is therefore likely that by preventing natural movements of sand gazelles and oryx, fencing may have reinforced the effects of stressful conditions such as drought. To reduce the catastrophic effects, a Strategy and Action Plan was developed in August 2008 to manage oryx and gazelle within the reserve and with provision for food and water at the five camps in the reserve as emergency plan to minimize mortalities.