Inside the Walls - The Sultan's Breeding Center, Part I
The sandstone walls of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said's private grounds were probably 20 feet high. The gates were simple, not ornate and wide enough for semi-trucks to pass through. The guards dressed in green camouflage, boots, and a burgundy beret. Casually slung over each of their shoulders was a black machine gun.
Although the public is not typically allowed past this point we had permission to enter. We supplied our identities in advance, but still, we had to wait. Our identification cards were carefully inspected and the guards argued to keep them if we wanted to pass. However, some careful negotiating got our IDs returned and we were allowed to pass through the giant walls and be swallowed by the private world.
The space inside felt enormous. We passed a car park with rows of covered parking, and then turned left onto the main road. The space was perfectly manicured. Two soldiers were resting against the gravel as though it were soft grass, small items of gear strewn around as if they had just completed a training exercise. A few meters further were 200 men casually lined up and chatting amongst themselves while they waited for their next instruction. Everyone was at ease. As we drove along the road we saw tanks, jeeps and trucks all uniformly colored green and neatly parked in rows. The speed limit sign of 30km reminded me that the property was quite large and we had already covered some distance.
Along our right side was another towering wall. The palace behind this second set of walls, separated from the troops and us.
The car turned to the left and to the right. Again, we faced a gate. A small door opened and a man in a deep brown dishdasha peered out. He quickly popped his head back in and closed the door without a word. He must have recognized our driver because a moment later he opened the gate and let us pass through. We drove into a liquid filled ditch and out again – a disinfectant bath for the tires. We had arrived at the Bait Al Barakah Breeding Center. We parked.
A swift talking, short, Omani man in tan trousers and a blue-checkered button up shirt came to greet us. He barely managed a simple introduction and a hello and we were off. I felt like I was chasing behind someone twice my height and leg speed. A moment later it didn’t matter because we walked through yet another gate and behind this gate were free roaming Arabian Oryx and Mountain Gazelles. I was star stuck. The group kept walking and talking as though we were walking by a herd of cattle. I couldn’t stop staring. I was stunned. They were wandering everywhere.
According the IUCN Red List the Arabian Oryx became extinct in the wild in the early 1970’s. Fortunately, the Phoenix Zoo was ahead of the game and had established a “World Herd” ten years previously. The conservation efforts saw incredible success and Oryx were reintroduced to many countries, including Oman, in 1982. The wild herd in Oman faced many issues with poaching and live capture and the breeding center is part of the continued effort to expand herds locally and support conservation efforts worldwide. Overall, this is a highly regarded conservation comeback story.
The tiny mountain gazelles that wandered amongst the Oryx were so small I initially thought they were babies, but upon closer inspection it is clear they are their own species. They maintain an adorable innocent charm.
We finally slowed our pace to a speed where we could enjoy the animals and our tour guide told us the center was initially created years ago to protect the Arabian Tahr from the same dangers that the Oryx face today. The Arabian Tahr is a small goat and is a source of much pride.
We continued our walk through the sanctuary and headed toward the enclosures, but before we saw more animals we had to stop and search for a badger...
Please stop by tomorrow to read about the missing badger and the rest of the animals in Part II.