By Maria Botros
Sir Bani Yas Island is a shining example of UAE’s success in environment management
Abu Dhabi: The heat from the morning sun gently embraces the skin as one steps out of the plane after a 30-minute journey to Sir Bani Yas Island.
In the distance, cars await as visitors prepare to embark on a journey to witness firsthand the wildlife on the island.
Driving at no more than 50km per hour, the ride through the desert island in the safari is therapeutic. Clouds fill the blue canvassed sky as birds hover over the 87-square-kilometre stretch of land.
The mountainous landscape in the horizon serves as a backdrop to the sand gazelles and giraffes dotting the landscape.
Sir Bani Yas, an island named after the first tribe to inhabit it 250 years ago known as the ‘Bani Yas’, is located 250km from Abu Dhabi city. In the 1970s, Sir Bani Yas was turned into a wildlife reserve by Shaikh Zayed to preserve Arabian wildlife. The island, which came to existence 5000-10,000 years ago, is home to over 13,000 animals.
According to Marius Prinsloo, general manager operations of Sir Bani Yas island, it remains true to its name with vast desert areas and around two and half million trees.
Shaikh Zayed had a vision which included greening the island in order for animals to live in a natural environment.
“Shaikh Zayed saw something bigger,” Prinsloo said. “He started in Al Ain with the greening of the environment and then he brought that concept over to Sir Bani Yas and started planting trees.”
Along with greening the island, Shaikh Zayed’s vision included the introduction of animals from across the world to the island. His paramount concern was the saving of the Arabian Oryx which, at the time, was declared extinct with only a few in captivity. In the present day, the island is home to around 500 Arabian Oryx making it the island’s flagship species.
“At this stage the status of the Arabian Oryx went from critically endangered to vulnerable which shows that the effort in the UAE, which currently holds the biggest number of Arabian Oryx in the world, has been tremendously successful,” Prinsloo said.
The island continuously collaborates with various breeding programmes amongst other environment agencies in Abu Dhabi in order to establish core breeding groups for other species in need of protection.
Animals such as the subspecies of the striped hyena which is found in the UAE, Somali subspecies of the cheetah bred successfully on the island, scimitar horned Oryx, Barbary sheep, Indian Black Buck and reticulated giraffe have found habitats on the island with the appropriate vegetation made available to them.
The animals receive the necessary care and treatment through the help of two veterinarians available on the island at all times.
“We cannot afford to let anything go extinct,” Prinsloo said. “We also have a responsibility towards ensuring that we get new genetic material that we diversify the animals of the island.”
The dedicated team of botanists and conservation staff from Barrari Forest Management monitor animals on a daily basis to ensure the implementation of the management plan the island has for the different species.
The Barrari team that managed botany on the island on behalf of Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), has created a mangrove nursery on the island by planting several thousand seedlings. This year alone, more than 6,000 mangroves have been planted. Visitors also have the opportunity to plant their own mangroves.
The island preserves much more than vegetation and wildlife.
In recent years, a team of archeologists uncovered a Christian monastery built in around 600 AD.
The site was discovered when Shaikh Zayed wanted to get rid of poisonous trees found on the island. Throughout the uprooting process, stucco artefacts were found which led a team of archeologists hired by the late Shaikh Zayed to continue excavations.
Also, 36 sites, not necessarily from the Christian era, have been found on the island. Video.