AlUla is a place of spectacular natural beauty, with varied habitats that once thrived with life, co-existing with our early ancestors. We are committed to preserving the natural beauty of AlUla’s landscapes and to re-establishing the rich diversity of plant-life and wildlife that once flourished here. The beautiful canyon area of Sharaan has been designated a Nature Reserve, setting a new standard in the region for re-balancing fragile ecosystems and reflecting Saudi Arabia’s commitment to protecting the earth’s natural environment.
The Sharaan Nature Reserve has been designed to protect some of the most important and significant natural habitats for conservation of biodiversity in the region. The Reserve will protect and connect areas of extraordinary ecological value and the region’s precious natural balance of biota and desert environment. Additionally, the reserve aims to preserve, restore, and reinforce native vegetation, habitats and fauna and other threatened species of outstanding universal value.
Located in the Eastern Canyons, the stunning site features spectacular red-rock canyons, steep-sided ravines, wide valleys and open desert areas with scattered rocky outcrops. This habitat diversity provides the opportunity to stock a range of native species in conditions relating to their natural habitat.
Although currently overgrazed by camels, the area possesses significant ecological value and potential for restoration.
Sharaan represents the first step in RCU’s commitment to protect AlUla’s natural environment, restore and rebalance our ecosystems, and managing wildlife under the care of engaged communities.
The Sharaan region features a variety of desert habitats that once supported a myriad of native flora and fauna species including acacia woodland, Nubian Ibex, Red-Necked Ostrich, and Idmi Gazelles as well as larger predators such as the elusive Arabian Leopard.
The introduction of domestic livestock to the region has decimated the native vegetation, with severe overgrazing leading to desertification and habitat degradation. There is an urgent need to reverse this concerning decline, and restore this fragile desert ecosystem, so it can support thriving life once again.
A launch event will take place on February 10th, featuring the release of 10 Nubian Ibex, 10 Red-Necked Ostriches and 20 Idmi Gazelles. The animals will be released in a 2km initial release site that will be protected from cars and camels to ensure the area remains undisturbed and facilitate native vegetation recovery. The enclosed area will enable husbandry of the animals and close monitoring, prior to their wider release. Indigenous Acacia trees will also be planted around the site, with the growing trees providing shade for animals in the future, encouraging native vegetation to grow, and improving the aesthetics of the site - contributing to the overall aim of restoring the landscape.
Apart from the protected initial release site, the Nature Reserve will be, for the time being, open to the public, who will be encouraged to keep to defined paths, if travelling by car, and to not litter. Eventually certain protected areas may be closed to the public to encourage habitat restoration.
In keeping AlUla’s commitment to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, the Reserve will feature landscape-scale habitat restoration to recreate a more ecologically rich and connected desert ecosystem benefitting wildlife and creating opportunities for ecotourism. The Reserve aims to eliminate overgrazing by domestic livestock, strictly prohibit the hunting of wild animals and tree-cutting and re-introduce native species to their original habitats, creating a more balanced and fully functioning desert ecosystem.
A series of habitat restoration techniques will serve to restore the landscape and return the desert environment back to its natural state. Installing boundary fencing will exclude camels and other livestock and lead to native vegetation recovery, which in turn will provide sustenance for reintroduced indigenous species. Native vegetation species found within Sharaan that the Reserve will protect and further restore includes seven species of Poaceae (the grass family), Haloxylon salicornicum (rimth) and Retama raetam (ratm) as well as several rare species including the aromatic herb, Pulicaria Incisa.
Once the native flora and herbivorous species begin to recover, predators such as the Arabian Wolf and Red Fox will have more natural prey and population numbers will likely begin to rise. Other species that will also benefit from the protection, enhanced habitat and reduced disturbance afforded by Sharaan include: Rock hyrax, Cape hare and several species of bird such as the Green Bee-eater, Laughing Dove and Crested Lark in addition to many birds of prey species such as wintering eagles, harriers and long-legged Buzzards.
A fully staffed team of Rangers will be trained by internationally renowned experts in the field, supporting the restriction on hunting and camel grazing which will benefit all reintroduced wildlife and ensure the Reserve is managed to global standards. This will be a launchpad for future and more diverse employment opportunities, continually building capacity and contributing to a thriving economy for AlUla.
Local communities will also contribute to the Reserve’s conservation goals. An Environmentally Sensitive Rangeland scheme will be implemented. The scheme will further the Reserve’s aims to restore native vegetation by reducing the number of camels and other livestock whilst also contributing to the elimination of wildlife persecution.
AlUla’s commitment to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development will reconnect its communities to nature,historically so integral to Bedouin culture, whilst also providing opportunities for future generations to experience, appreciate and enjoy their natural heritage.
RCU has also partnered with the College of African Wildlife Management (CAWM), Mweka, to train a team of carefully selected members of the local community to become rangers for Sharaan Nature Reserve. These rangers will be responsible for protected area management and administration, scientific monitoring and anti-poaching techniques. CAWM was chosen from a range of organisations due to their impeccable reputation as a leading training institution, and ability to conduct a detailed training programme covering practical training, relevant skills and knowledge. Their experienced team are also skilled in technologies such as GIS, SMART, Acoustic Monitoring and Cyber-Tracking that will likely prove useful when rangers are managing the vast landscape of Sharaan.
RCU will work with all partners, stakeholders, local communities in AlUla, government and NGOs and in consultation with relevant national and international experts and organization to develop a long-term Management Plan as well as a short-term action plan. These plans will take into consideration best practice management approach to ensure the success of this significant nature reserve and accomplish the set objective.
Some of our main objectives are to restore the balance of the ecosystem and to allow sustainable benefits from the Reserve through appropriate use of the resource, ecotourism, education and provision of opportunities for scientific research.
RCU are also committed to protecting, conserving and building population numbers of the critically-endangered Arabian Leopard. This ambitious project involves consulting with international experts to improve existing facilities at Taif Breeding Centre whilst designing and constructing a state-of-the-art captive breeding centre within AlUla. The long-term goal is to reintroduce Arabian Leopards to AlUla and the wider region, with a restored habitat and prey base sufficient to support a viable population.
A substantial Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard is also being established, with the aim of supporting regional grassroots initiatives to conserve this magnificent, but critically endangered species. The Fund will also support public education campaigns and help to raise awareness of the plight of the Arabian Leopard, with the potential to form partnerships with captive bred populations in zoos and other organisations around the world, with the aim of releasing individuals into AlUla County, to ensure a genetically diverse population.
The Sharaan Nature Reserve is in support of Vision 2030’s pillar for Saudi Arabia to be an ambitious triving nation effectively governed through the protection of our most vital assets - in this case, AlUla’s natural environment. It will also contribute to the development of a thriving economy through the creation of new conservation and ecotourism-based sectors built; and a vibrant society fostering the values of excellence and disciple through the engagement, training and continuous capacity building of local communities. The reserve is committed to ensuring environmental sustainability and safeguarding the environment from natural threats as it works to protect and rehabilitate the natural landscape.
The Sharaan Nature Reserve will also be a mechanism for relationship-building internationally - contributing to Saudi Arabia’s status as a hub connecting three continents, through the enablement of dialogue, collaboration and best practice in the realm of conservation, wildlife protection, and environmental restoration.