Deep in the Rub’ al-Khali — the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter — something remarkable has happened. Three Arabian animal species, some of which were on the brink of extinction, are once again roaming freely across their ancestral homeland.
Construction began in 2014. “The Rub’ al-Khali is an iconic landscape, but to date, none of it was formally or physically protected, so we knew creating the sanctuary would be of national and international conservation significance,” said Boland.
A location was identified, no less than 637 km2 in size, making it one of the largest fenced nature reserves in the world.
Even the simplest of tasks can be challenging in Shaybah. For example, the building of the new 106 km perimeter road that surrounds the sanctuary would be a relatively straight forward task in most locations. Not in the Rub’ al-Khali.
With sand dunes in the area reaching up to 300 meters high, some of the largest in the world, and the temperature rising to 55 degrees Celsius in the summer, the installation of the road network required extensive resources, including the use of heavy vehicles and a fleet of bulldozers.
“Before we installed the roads, it took half a day just to travel the 12 kilometers to the sanctuary entrance. Now, with the roads in place, we can patrol the whole 106 kilometer perimeter in three hours. Only Saudi Aramco, with its deep desert construction expertise, could have pulled this off,” said Sweeting.
The sanctuary is enclosed by security fencing made from a specially designed material that uses a large gauge wired mesh that minimizes the buildup of the shifting Rub’ al-Khali sands along its length. It also allows small animals to pass in and out of the sanctuary — an important aspect of supporting the wider ecosystem in the area.
Coming full circle
In Hail, hundreds of miles northwest of the Rub’ al-Khali, ancient rock art dating back thousands of years clearly depict ostrich, gazelle and oryx, highlighting the long and special relationship between humans and these animals. Their history in the peninsula is literally etched in stone.
Now, due in no small part to the Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary, these animals seem sure to remain a part of the landscape for many years to come, their future secure under the custodianship of Saudi Aramco.
The sanctuary epitomizes Saudi Aramco’s unique approach to its operations and its care for the Kingdom. We are more than an energy company — we are stewards of our environment and strive to leave a lasting environmental benefit wherever we operate.