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Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary

Deep in the Ar Rub' al-Khali the Kingdom's Empty Quarter something remarkable has happened.

In the Rub’ al-Khali, three Arabian species which were on the brink of extinction again roam free thanks to Aramco investment in the region.

Once a common sight, the Arabian oryx, sand gazelle, and ostrich have long been missing from this challenging but beautiful landscape - their numbers decimated by hunters over the last century. By 1972, only four Arabian oryx remained alive in the wild. The ostrich suffered its fate even earlier than the oryx. Excessive hunting caused it to disappear from the Rub’ al-Khali about 120 years ago, with the last wild ostrich recorded in the Arabian Peninsula about 1939. Sand gazelles have also seen their numbers dwindle to alarmingly low levels across Arabia for the same reasons.

The Shaybah team agreed to meet four primary goals:


Restore key native species to the Rub’ al-Khali


Set aside and protect a significant portion of pristine wilderness to meet our environmental stewardship goals


Support academic research in the field of ecology and the environment, particularly to benefit desert conservation projects worldwide


To provide a high quality environmental education and visitor experience

It was against this backdrop that Aramco decided to intervene. We are restoring 637 km2 of the Rub’ al-Khali to its natural state by (i) preventing key threatening processes such as off-road driving, hunting, grazing by camels, and firewood collection, and (ii) reintroducing three locally extinct species, Arabian oryx, Arabian gazelle, ostrich and within a natural, functioning ecosystem maintained at equilibrium and free of nonnative species.

  • Stage one - When the animals arrived, they were quarantined in enclosures for one month. Here, veterinarians monitored the animals closely to ensure they recuperated from their long journey and were healthy. Medications or vaccinations were administered where required, and ear tags were fitted to track the age, parentage, medical history, and population size of the animals in the future. 

  • Stage two - Once healthy, strong, and settled, the animals are released into a pre-release area consisting of a fenced sabkha flatland area of about 1 km2, with water holes, sun shades, and feeding stations provided. Here the animals begin to explore and acclimatize to their new surroundings. 

  • Stage three - In the last stage, the animals were released into the wider 637 km2 sanctuary, roaming free with limited human assistance but under the watchful eye of the sanctuary security rangers. 

  • Gazelle roam free across the 637km2 Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary

The Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary is one of our voluntary sustainability community initiatives, to contribute to biodiversity restoration in the areas in which we operate. Located adjacent to our mega-facilities in the area, the fenced sanctuary now protects dozens of native plant and animal species.

The results have been remarkable. There are now a total of 130 Arabian Oryx, 120 sand gazelle and four Red-necked ostriches in the region. Phase 2 of the project, to be completed over the next couple of years, will see further delivery of animals until optimal numbers are achieved within the sanctuary. Additionally, a research station and operations building are under construction. This phase will enhance academic partnerships between Aramco and academic institutes, paving the way for future environmental research in the area.

“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 Aramco, with its deep desert construction expertise, could have pulled this off.”


Wayne Sweeting, wildlife scientist at Aramco

“To successfully re-establish any large bodied species is a rare conservation achievement globally. To establish three species into a desert — the harshest of environments — is just extraordinary. It’s incredibly rewarding — one of the highlights of my career.”


Christopher Boland, terrestrial ecologist at Aramco

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