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An evening discussing Oman’s hidden conservation heritage

Wednesday 24 October sees the third annual Oman Natural Heritage Lecture in association with the Anglo-Omani Society taking place at the RGS-IBG’s Ondaatje Theatre. This year’s evening will focus on Oman’s hidden conservation heritage, including details of the Arabian Tahr and the Nubian Ibex. The main speakers are Mr Haitham Al Rawahi and Mr Taimur Al Said from the Office for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court, Sultanate of Oman. There will then follow a panel session with the speakers, moderated by Mr Hadi Al Hikmani and Nigel Winser.

To celebrate this prestigious event, fifty Geographical readers will be able to claim a free ticket to attend the lecture! See below for details.

The Arabian TahrThe Arabian Tahr

The Arabian Tahr Conservation Programme by Haitham Al Rawahi

The Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) is an endangered species found only in the Hajar mountains of the Sultanate of Oman with less than 2,500 estimated to be found worldwide. The tahr is a mountain goat belonging to the Caprinae sub-family. With a dimorphic body shape, tahr males have wider and longer horns than females. Moreover, males have a distinctive beard, sock-like hair, and a dark mane along their back.

In the Hajar Mountains of Oman, the three main hot-spots with high density of the tahr population are the Al Sareen Nature Reserve, the Jabal Qahwan Reserve and the surrounding Nakhal Mountains. The Office for Conservation of the Environment at the Diwan of Royal Court, in collaboration with other local organisations, has run a number of studies of the tahr’s habitat, distribution and ecology, including trapping and GPS-collaring 27 of the animals, revealing the fascinating relationship between tahr and their vertical habitat.

The Nubian Ibex (Image: Office for the Conservation of the Environment, Sultanate of Oman)The Nubian Ibex (Image: Office for the Conservation of the Environment, Sultanate of Oman)

The Nubian Ibex, an icon of the Huqf ecosystem by Taimur Al Said

To the untrained eye the Huqf seems like a desolate wasteland, but the area provides important habitat to many forms of biodiversity specially adapted to the arid conditions. To understand the distribution and status of biodiversity, Omani field researchers have initiated an ambitious first camera trapping survey and research project of the area covering over 4,000km2 of desert, cliffs, mountains and plains.

The research is focusing on the Nubian ibex, an elusive mountain goat living in the Huqf escarpment which we know little about, but which is increasingly threatened and disappearing. To do this the team is using camera trapping to identify the distribution and status of ibex, conservation hotspots for the species, and identifying reliable population monitoring tools. In addition, they aim to live-capture the large mountain goat to attach small GPS-tags that will track the movements of ibex, showing us the species daily needs and requirements, area use and seasonal behaviour.

The research is uncovering the species habits and habitats, crucial information in order to protect the home and behaviours of the species. While discussing the research project, Taimur Al Said will describe the ups and downs of the fieldwork and other biodiversity discoveries of the area.


This event has now taken place, but be sure to keep checking back for details of the 2019 Lecture!

GEOGRAPHIC FACTS
• Geographic location: Pacific Ocean
• Latitude/Longitude: 0°37’09”S, 90°21’29”W
• Population: 25,124 (2010)
• Ethnicity breakdown: 81% Mestizo, 7.5% Native Indian, 7.3% Caucasian, 4.2% African-Ecuadorian(2010)
• Land area: 3,093 sq miles (8,010 sq km)
• Ocean area: 23,000 sq miles (59,500 sq km)
• Number of islands: 127 (including 19 large, four inhabited)
• Language: Spanish
• Currency: US dollar

WILDLIFE
Aside from the Galápagos’ most famous residents – the giant tortoises – the islands are also home to the world’s only marine iguanas. They can be primarily seen lazing around in the sun sneezing excess salt everywhere, or occasionally diving into the water – they are excellent swimmers – in search of a meal, nibbling marine algae off submerged rocks. The islands are also home to land iguanas, including a bright pink species classified for the first time in 2009, after being located in a remote part of Wolf Volcano. Sharing the rocky coastlines with the marine iguanas are Galápagos penguins, the only penguin that lives at or near the equator. The roughly 2,000-strong bird population is mainly located in the colder, nutrient-rich waters of Fernandina and Isabela, and this small population size and restricted range means they are graded as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN. Further out to sea, the islands are also a hub of utmost importance for over 2,900 marine species, including sea lions and turtles. To the far north, the remote uninhabited Wolf and Darwin islands witness vast gatherings of hammerheads and even whale sharks, whose presence helped establish the Galápagos Marine Reserve in 1986, now – at 133,000 square km – one of the largest such reserves in the world.

TIMELINE
1535 Discovered by Spanish
1832 Annexed by Ecuador
1835 Visited by a young Charles Darwin
1859 Darwin publishes his theory of evolution by natural selection, based on observation in Galápagos
1941 Used as a base by the US military for the duration of WWII
1959 Official creation of the Galápagos National Park
1978 Designated the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site
1986 Creation of the Galápagos marine reserve
2012 Death of Lonesome George

DEMOGRAPHICS
In 1941, the Galápagos’ human population consisted of just 810 people. The number of residents sky-rocketed during the 20th century, reaching 18,640 by 2001, and 25,124 by 2010. Population pressure meant that the islands were added to UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list in 2007, promoting then-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to make reforms to the country’s ‘Special Law for the Galápagos’, essentially creating a separate citizenship for Galápagos residents. Its purpose was to act as a control on the number of mainlanders moving to what has become the richest province of the country (thanks to tourism) and threatening the sustainability of the biodiversity which made it such a profitable international tourist destination. Only authorised Galápagos residents are now allowed to work on the islands. Recognising these efforts, UNESCO subsequently reversed their decision in 2010.

PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY
The islands famously occur at the meeting point for three major tectonic plates, the Nazca, Cocos and Pacific. Tectonic activity is ongoing among the youngest, most western islands, such as Fernandina and Isabela, which are less than a million-years-old. Further east, where continental drift has carried them away from the volcanic hotspots which cause the islands to emerge from the sea in the first place, the oldest islands, such as Española and San Cristóbal, are between three and five million-years-old, and are still only just beginning the long process of erosion.
Each of the major islands consists primarily of one main cone-shaped volcano, with the exception of Isabela which is formed of six that have since merged together. Many of the islands have enormous underground tunnels formed by the cooling outer crusts of lava, with fast-flowing liquid inside. These were often used as habitats by native species for years, with the skeletons of extinct animals such as giant rats found inside.

FLORA
The islands are home to between 552 and 614 known native plant species, more than 30 per cent of which are endemic. The flora of the Galápagos is predominately desert vegetation, given how only the humid highlands generally receive enough rainfall to sustain lush green plant life. The more common dry areas of the islands are frequently populated by shrubs and cacti, plants which are well-adapted to drought-like conditions, only flowering during rare periods of high rainfall. By the coasts, mangroves play a very important role in the local ecosystem, providing breeding sites for birds such as pelicans and frigate birds, as well as a shady refuge for marine wildlife.
Across the Galápagos, there are hundreds of threats posed by invasive plant species. There are at least 866 recognised introduced species now settled in the wild, the majority brought deliberately by humans. One of the most urgent threats is quinine, a tall, rapidly-growing evergreen tree introduced in the 1940s which has spread across Santa Cruz, significantly altering the ecological composition of the vegetation and making survival more difficult for native species. Similarly, the spiny Asian blackberry shrub, introduced in the 1970s, has been observed invading wetter parts of the archipelago and forming impenetrable thick forests, negatively affecting the seed germination of native species.

Kuoni

Oman AK

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