Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve showcased
as eco-tourism model at United Nations conference

Please find below the latest Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve press releases and media coverage.

Organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, the Sustainable Eco-Tourism in Desert Ecosystems conference in Dubai was arranged to discuss sustainable development, conservation of natural resources and tourism growth.

A benchmark in the conference discussions was the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR); the first and largest protected wildlife conservation area in the UAE, formally recognised as a Protected Area by UNEP, and also home to Emirates' exclusive Al Maha property.

In 2003, the Government of Dubai decided to create a nationally significant conservation area and charged Emirates with its management and protection. Since then Emirates has invested over 10 Million dhs in support of wildlife conservation programmes, scientific research, and protection of this 225 square kilometre area.

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline & Group, and also the Chairman of the Dubai Conservation Board, commented: "We are honoured that Al Maha and the DDCR have been held up internationally as a foremost example of sustainable tourism development at this prestigious conference. We are determined to preserve a balance between conservation and Dubai’s rapid urban expansion. Emirates and Al Maha have contributed enormously to ensure the management of conservation, research and tourism within the DDCR is at the highest international standards.

“Much of the region’s natural resources, habitats and wildlife are under pressure; however, sustainable developments such as Al Maha offer the biggest opportunities to develop the tourism economy, while also protecting natural and historic heritage into the future.”

Since the opening of Al Maha in 1999, the successful re-introduction of the Arabian Oryx, Arabian Gazelle, Sand Gazelle and large-scale indigenous flora re-seeding programmes are just some of the major projects that have been delicately carried out in the DDCR. It is the only location within the UAE where visitors are able to experience completely free-roaming wildlife within their natural desert and dune surroundings.

The reserve is the most actively researched and carefully managed conservation area in the region. It is registered with the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), audited by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and is a member of the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). The DDCR has joined some of the world's most treasured conservation areas, including such reserves as Yellowstone National Park in the USA and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Confirmed by scientific research, the environment and habitat within the DDCR has greatly improved from what it was ten years ago. Quite apart from the wildlife which has been reintroduced, many species that had disappeared from the area are now returning on their own accord.

The DDCR is segregated into four utilisation zones. In some areas, only researchers are allowed to enter on foot. In another zone a select number of safari operators – who worked closely with the reserve management to create a foremost example of sustainable desert tourism in the region - can conduct safaris for visitors, providing an experience of the desert and dunes, and its unique fauna and flora, and gaining a better understanding of Dubai’s conservation efforts.

Notes to editor

About DDCR:

The Government of Dubai decided to create a conservation area in 2003, which saw the expansion of Al Maha’s original 27 square kilometre reserve into a 225 square kilometre protected area. The new area – the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) – became the largest, secured, protected land mass in the UAE.

Specific, international standard, conservation law was then developed, and the DDCR was formally and permanently protected under Rulers’ Decree in 2004.

Internationally, as a norm, governments protect between four-eight per cent of a nation’s land area, critical in preserving the world’s shrinking biodiversity and natural resources. The DDCR, covering 4.79 per cent of Dubai land area, makes Dubai a leader in conservation regionally.

His Highness, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairs the Dubai Conservation Board, a multi-disciplinary board made up of government authorities, tourism and conservation experts, and Al Maha continues to have overall responsibility for the management and operations of DDCR.

The formation of the Conservation Board indicates the importance placed on maintaining the balance between Dubai's development, and the need to preserve its natural and cultural heritage. Emirates, as the leading driver of tourism in the region, has sponsored the conservation and wildlife support programmes within the DDCR, investing over dhs 10 million over seven years.

Threatened indigenous wildlife species, including the endangered Arabian Oryx, were first reintroduced in 1998 and 1999 and have been breeding successfully around Al Maha since, with wildlife being released into the greater DDCR area on a regular basis. Very few countries have made such progress in the field of land conservation in recent times, with few permanently protecting this percentage of land area in the last two decades.

Internally the DDCR is segregated into four zones, each with a prescribed utilisation plan - from complete exclusion zones, only visited on foot by researchers to those zones where controlled vehicle access routes are provided to a few selected safari operators for desert excursions and dune camps. Over 225,000 visitors have experienced the reserve over the past year alone, taking the total to over one million since its opening, without any noticeable damage to the desert habitat. To protect wildlife, and control visitor activities and numbers, the reserve is completely fenced.

A part of the DDCR operation activities is the education and training of professional safari guides and the raising of public awareness on conservation issues. Contrary to commonly-held beliefs, deserts are not empty, but are sensitive eco-systems containing living species which have evolved over millions of years within certain climatic conditions, and which support many unique plants and animals - many of which may well be valuable future sources of medical, herbal, and genetic materials, given their unique adaptations.

Another vital role served by conservation is to create a benchmark of each nation’s natural environment, and a complete record of its biodiversity. As development, agriculture, industry and urbanisation cause change to the environment, it is critical for planners to know what changes are likely to take place, and whether these environmental impacts are sustainable in the long term.

Today, the DDCR is very much alive - home to over 33 mammal and reptile species indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian Oryx was until recently on the verge of extinction, but the DDCR has been successful in re-introducing the species, which is successfully breeding, undisturbed in their natural environment. Many other species are also returning to this area on their own accord, after a long absence, as the natural balance to the eco-system is restored. This year alone has seen six previously unrecorded species returning, along with an increase in a wide variety of both resident and migratory bird species, including the Barbary Falcon, Lappett-faced Vultures, and even migrating Cuckoo.

The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is the first and largest protected wildlife conservation area in the UAE, formally recognised as a Protected Area by UNEP, and also home to Emirates' exclusive Al Maha property.
Leading environmentalists, academics, government officials and eco-tourism experts visited Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa and the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve yesterday.