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Unprecedented deletion of a World Heritage Site in Oman

Unprecedented deletion of a World Heritage Site in Oman

Unprecedented deletion of a World Heritage Site in Oman
By Joshua S. Hill
July 3, 2007

The Oryx is one of three or four large antelope species of the genus Oryx, and are known for their long, swept back horns. In 1996 the Arabian Oryx — found on the Arabian Peninsula — numbered 450 within a specially designated area known as the Oman Arabian Oryx Sanctuary. Today, the number sits at only 65, with only 4 viable breeding pairs. Without a doubt, the extinction of the Arabian Oryx in the wild is not out of the question.

Recent policy shifts in the Sultanate of Oman have further endangered the species. Oman plans to reduce the World Heritage List protected ‘sanctuary’ by 90%, in direct opposition of the Operational Guidelines set out by the World Heritage List. As a result, the Oman Arabian Oryx Sanctuary has been removed from the protected list administered by UNESCO, the U.N. body that aims to conserve sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to mankind.

This is a first for the convention, which has been in operation since 1972. The planned downgrade of the sanctuary in the Al Wusta region was seen by UNESCO as destroying the value of the sanctuary which has been a part of the Heritage list since 1994.

The move comes as 22 new sites–16 sites were cultural, 5 were natural and one was a mix of both–have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List at its latest meeting in Christchurch this past week.

The degradation of the Oman Arabian Oryx Sanctuary not only threatens the Oryx; species such as the Arabian gazelle and houbara bustard are also at risk. While Oman may change its position, for the moment, the outlook for the Arabian Oryx does not look promising.

Joshua S. Hill is a free-lance writer based in Australia.

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