Desert locusts are on the prowl in Oman. Yes, the winter that just went by saw locust swarms in plenty in Wadi Aydam in Governorate of Dhofar, Qarn Alam and Arada in UAE. Desert diva and adventurer, Marina Bruce, who recently led a group of travellers to Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter) says she saw plague of locusts near Arada, UAE, at the northernmost part of the Rub al Khali desert.
“Over the past 10 years I have seen few locusts every year, but never in such a large concentration as this winter,” she confirms.
The group encountered quite a few locust swarms during their Empty Quarter discovery weekend. Plagues of desert locusts have threatened agricultural production in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia for centuries.
Their self-drive tour took them to two beautiful areas of dunes, a date plantation and crossing the Tropic of Cancer. Marina says she always keeps an eye out for wildlife and on this trip spotted gazelle, lizards and desert locusts.
They saw locusts in two locations namely near Arada, south of the Liwa Crescent where they took some pictures which is the northern ‘border’ of Rub al Khali in UAE and the second was around 30 kilometres north of the Liwa Crescent.
Recollects Marina how a desert locust had landed on her car while driving through Wadi Aydam in 2013.
“It was about 7 centimetres long and at that time was the largest one I had ever seen!”
The group during the present trip to the Empty Quarter included travellers from South Africa, Austria, Australia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, while others were UAE-based expatriates.
Locusts breed in the south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. One of the main reasons, she says could be due to cyclones in Sudan coupled with tropical storm in Oman last year which created excellent conditions for a double breeding cycle.
She also says that locusts are known to be swarming in the south of the Empty Quarter, which is apparently a good breeding ground for them.
The strong southerly and westerly winds experienced in March and April have dispersed them widely!
Are these desert locusts edible?
‘Yes,’ says Marina. “In fact in Chinese cuisine they are a delicacy. However, the government has been spraying affected areas with pesticides and issued a warning to refrain from eating them. They are not particularly dangerous or deadly insects,” says Marina.
Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the famed British explorer, also known as Mubarak bin London was sent to the Middle East in the 1940s to study the migration pattern and breeding grounds for locusts.
Until this year, Marina admits she had wondered what was there to study in the UAE and Oman, and now is clearly aware of that!
Says Dawn Wadsworth from Dubai: “I have seen quite a few locusts around the fringes of the desert where there is more vegetation nearby, but this was the first time I had encountered one so deep in the desert. It was lovely to see them so close to, and be able to study them and their beautiful patterns a little more closely than you usually can.”
While Annali Delsink who was on holiday from the Netherlands with Anton, her Abu Dhabi resident son, recalls: “When I opened the window to take photos a locust flew in, what a commotion to get it out again! It was a good thing we stopped at that moment because I nearly jumped onto Anton’s side of the car! The locust landed on my lap and I don’t know who got the bigger fright, me or the locust.”
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has a desert locust website which provides situation updates. The website notes that locusts had moved out of the Rub al Khali and have been seen in northern Oman, where good rains fell recently.
During April and May, breeding will continue and is expected to commence in the interior of Yemen and, to a lesser extent, in northern Oman.
Marina who lives life to the full in the Empty Quarter is also a keen adventurer and an off-road enthusiast who is deeply passionate about Oman. She is keen on keen on nature and her series, Wild Oman is a collection of just some of the pictures snapped during her travels.
Compared to Scotland, her home country, the Sultanate is massive and there are different terrains and landscapes; desert, shore, plains, mountains and wadis, all just waiting to be explored.
Oman may be on the edge of the Empty Quarter but there is plenty of life all around. Not everyone will have the time or resources to travel extensively but she suggests they can browse through her blog and photo series.
Marina has driven the length and breadth of Oman and taken thousands of photos on her travels. These are updated on her blog at thedesertdiva.com.