Wednesday, February 08, 2023 | Rajab 16, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

A day of interaction with the fascinating Arabian oryx

The first thing that caught my attention was their longhorns. They were intimidating. In the vastness of the desert, their colour nearly made them invisible from afar mixing so well with the landscape. It was only the black horns that stood out and thanks to the enclosure where they were boxed in, they were identifiable because of their constant moving around.


The baby oryx, calf if we have to be precise, do not have horns. They reminded me of baby cows, to be honest, those I usually see when I visit Friday souqs like those in Nizwa. It takes time for them to grow their horns and when they finally acquire them, they become truly majestic.


I've been familiar with those horns. In the past, when there was wanton hunting for these majestic creatures, the horns were preserved. Locally, they were used to make trumpet-like instruments the locals called Barghum and this instrument, also said to only make two notes, had been popular as an addition whenever Omanis play tribal music.


I've always wondered why they became Oman's national animal. I've seen them nearly everywhere, from the logo of a newspaper to postal stamps released nearly every other year including books that talk about the amazing fauna and flora of Oman but while I am thoroughly aware of their existence, I haven't seen a live one until a week back.


Such was my fascination with Oman's Arabian Oryx that I went all out in research to figure out why there is so much adulation for these creatures.


While living in captivity on the grounds of Thousand Nights Camp in Bidiyah, the oryxes I saw were well-fed. Their stomachs were bulging and kind of reminded me of an animated clip where all the animals were made fat. I had a different notion of them — agile, aloft, fit as a pipe, but maybe being inside the cage had made them lazy. Maybe that's what happens when you don't have to worry about prey. You just wait for when the food is handed to you and be glad that life is good.


If a global effort wasn't made to preserve and bring back the Arabian oryx in 1972, I wouldn't have been so lucky to see them today. That would have been a real tragedy. Thanks to the initiative of the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, their numbers continue to grow now. A 2019 census put the Arabian oryx population at about 700 and my visit to the Thousand Night Camps already showed about half a dozen calves that were not part of the earlier census. Hopefully, in another five years, to reach 2000 would be a real win.


I spent nearly an hour just gawking at them. I also took dozens of photos. To me, the moment felt like finally a piece of a puzzle has been revealed. I've known for a while that they had been featured in pre-Islamic writings and had been featured not just in earlier books but also in art. I also know that to the Bedouins, they were an important commodity and in an environment where food is usually scarce, they were a good source of meat. The Bedus also used them for clothing and leather and maybe, that was one of the contributing factors that we almost lost them.


If you're looking for an experience, visiting different destinations where oryxes can be found will be a real treat. I was told there are a lot of them in Jeddat al Harasis but was glad I didn't have to travel all the way.


If you're an animal lover like me, you will have the compulsion to touch them. But you have to remember that these are animals of the wild so touching them like you would your 'sonora' (cat) will not happen. You can also easily get impaled by those long horns so always maintain a safe distance.


But just because you can't pet them doesn't mean you can't appreciate them. We still need to create more awareness and hopefully, help them grow their population. They also do not belong in cages and I hope one day, they can roam freely in a reserve that's primary duty is to protect them.


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