June 30, 2007 / 8:49 AM / 11 years ago

UNESCO removes Oman oryx sanctuary from heritage list

DUBAI (Reuters) - Oman’s Arabian Oryx sanctuary this week became the first site to be removed from UNESCO’s World Heritage list after the rare species dwindled and the government cut the park size by 90 percent.

The Arabian Oryx sanctuary was added to the list in 1994 but the United Nations cultural organization said that poaching and habitat degradation had led to a decline in numbers of Oryx.

In 1996, the population was 450 but it has since fallen to 65 with only around four breeding pairs making its future viability uncertain, UNESCO said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Oman’s government on the sanctuary, the first site to be deleted since UNESCO’s 1972 convention on the protection of cultural and natural heritage sites.

“After extensive consultation with the state ..., the committee felt that the unilateral reduction in the size of the sanctuary and plans to proceed with hydrocarbon prospect ion would destroy the value and integrity of the property, which is also home to other endangered species including, the Arabian Gazelle and houbara bustard,” it said.

“The committee expressed regret that the state ... failed to fulfil its obligations regarding the conservation of the sanctuary as defined by the World Heritage Convention.”

Oman’s Arabian Oryx project was established in 1979 by ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said to re-establish a wild population of the rare antelope that had been hunted into extinction in the wild.

Oryx that had been bred in captivity in the United States were released into the sanctuary in the ensuing years and in 1994 an official sanctuary was established, Oman’s official Arabian Oryx Web site (www.oryxoman.com) said.

But as the number of Oryx grew, they attracted more poachers who tried to catch them alive for sale outside Oman.

“Adult females became a target although only a small number reached foreign markets alive,” the site said. “Many were found dead having succumbed to capture stress or had just been dumped, trussed, in the desert by poachers trying to escape capture.”

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