Oman - The Land, Flora & Fauna
Geography – The Land
Oman's diverse geography includes rugged coasts, placid beaches, craggy mountains, salt flats, oasis and deserts.
What first strikes visitors to Oman are the jebels, in Arabic for mountains, which, perhaps is Oman’s singular defining geology. Oman’s mountains, the Al Hajar Mountains, overlook the Gulf of Oman and are divided into two; the Eastern and Western Al Hajar mountains, by the Sumail Gap. These mountains lie as an arc of black and grey ophiolitic mountains extending northwards for 550 km from Ras Al Hadd in the West.
Known for their geological heritage, the Al Hajar Mountains are largely barren mountains but support life forms ranging from the common Fig Tree to the endangered Arabian Tahr. Rising up to nearly 3000 meters, areas like Jebel Akhdar or the Saiq plateau are prone to thunderstorms, rain and even hailstones! Notably, Jebel Shams, Oman’s tallest peak, which lies 3013 meters above sea level, has even recorded snowfall! The upper reaches of the Saiq Plateau have ample vegetation and have become summer retreats when temperatures on the plains become unbearable.
In the South, overlooking the Arabian Sea is the Dhofar Mountain Range. The Jebel Dhofar Mountains form a narrow belt, at the most 23km wide, running 400km west to east, from the Yemeni border to the Hallaniyat Islands, climbing up to 2,500 meters. The South West Monsoon bathe a 75km stretch of these Jebels, carpeting them in greenery and blessing its lower slopes and foothills with the Frankincense tree and gifting the coastal plains with vegetables, bananas and coconut palms.
Apart from the jebels, the other most striking feature of Oman’s topography is its deserts; the red and Gold dunes of the Ramlat Al Sharqiyah or the Wahiba Sands and the Rub Al Khali or the Empty Quarter.
he Wahiba Sands or Ramlat Al Sharqiyah, named after the predominant bedouin tribe Yal Wahiba, is a stretch of longitudinal dunes, 100-200 meters high, that run for 200 kilometers south from the Eastern Hajar to the Arabian Sea. Within this inhospitable terrain stretching 12500 sq.kms of sandy desert, reside, surprisingly, 16,000 invertebrates as well as 200 species of other wildlife, including avifauna and 150 species of native flora.
Home to the Bedu (bedouin), a once nomadic tribe that lived across Arabia in such harsh environments, the Wahiba Sands provides a glimpse of nomadic bedouin life that is all but disappeared and is an ideal place to interact with Omani bedouin women whose lifestyle affords a more sociable role in Omani society.
Oman’s largest desert biome is the Rub Al Khali or the Empty Quarter, which it shares with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. This giant desert lies in Oman’s south and south west border with Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The largest portion of the Rub Al Khali is in Saudi Arabia with giant dunes as high as 250 meters (800 feet) making it the largest contiguous body of sand. The Rub' al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, covers some 650,000 square kilometers (250,000 square miles), more than the combined land areas of Holland, Belgium and France.
Gazelles, Oryx, sand cats, and spiny-tailed lizards are just some of the desert-adapted species that survive in this extreme environment, which features everything from red dunes to deadly quicksand. The climate is extremely dry, and temperatures oscillate between extreme heat and seasonal nighttime freezes.
From the tourist standpoint, the Al Hajar Mountains, the Wahiba Sands and the Rub Al Khali are all great eco regions to explore. Each of these biomes can be explored by vehicle and also by the old means of transport, camels. All you need to have is a desire to explore these unique eco regions and we will fill in the rest!
Fauna – Oman’s Wildlife
Oman's varied topography supports a variety of animals. About 86 species of mammals, 480 species of birds and 21 different species of whales and dolphins make Oman and its waters their home.
According to the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, Oman has one critically endangered mammal (Dhofarian Shrew), four endangered mammals including the Arabian Oryx and Arabian Tahr and five vulnerable mammal species which include the Dugong, two Bat species and the Wild Goat.
Oman’s most famous mammal though should be the endangered Green Turtle and the Loggerhead Turtle, both of which consider the beaches of Ras Al Junaiz and Masirah Island as their nesting spots. The Loggerhead turtle makes the Masirah Island the largest nesting spot for these mammals in the world. Every year 23,000 to 30,000 Loggerhead Turtles nest in the beaches of the Masirah Island.
Oman’s other famous mammals are the Arabian Oryx and the Arabian Tahr.
The Arabian Oryx, an endangered species, survives in a sanctuary within the Central Desert and bordering the Jiddat Al Harasis Plateau. Seasonal fog and dews support a unique desert ecosystem whose diverse flora provides for the needs of the Oryx. The first free-ranging herd of Arabian Oryx was found here since the global extinction of the species in the wild in 1972 and the Oryx was reintroduced here in 1982. From a total count of 196 Oryx’s in the sanctuary the number has decreased to only 65 resulting in the area being delisted as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The area around the Jiddat Al Harasis is also the only wild breeding site in Arabia of the endangered houbara bustard, a species of wader, as well as the largest area with a wild population of the Arabian gazelle.
With a coastline of 1700 kilometers, Oman has a varied and diverse marine life. Its waters are home to 21 species of Dolphins and Whales alone. Some of the species like the Bottlenose Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins and Common Dolphins are the most commonly sighted ones and in the Whale species, the Humpback whales are the most common. Not much research has been done into the characteristics of these Cetaceans, but it is believed that the Humpback Whales are resident to Oman’s waters.
With avifauna, Oman has a larger diversity within its eco system. Known internationally for its migrating raptors, most eagles from Verreaux’s Eagle to Booted Eagle and rarities like the Tawny Eagle and Long Tailed Shrike are present here in winter. The coastal khors or creeks in Dhofar are a haven for water birds and migrants species and they include the Lesser Flamingo, the African Spoonbill and migrant Herons, Little Bitterns and Baillon`s Crakes. Interestingly Oman has no endemic species of birds.
The ideal bird watching sites are Masirah Island, the Sohar Sun Farms, Sawadi, Damaniyat Islands and the Khors of Salalah in Southern Oman.
No other tree has been linked so closely to the prosperity of a nation than the Frankincense Tree to Oman. The Frankincense Tree grows best in the Dhofar region in Southern Oman, mostly on the lower slopes of the Dhofar Mountain Range. The tree is bled for its aromatic sap which is used in making perfumes and also in aromatherapy.
The Frankincense Tree has small and dense branches, yielding resin in eight to ten years and the height of the Frankincense Tree ranges from three to five meters.
The Tree, once the mainstay of Oman’s trade in the ancient world, has been overtaken in economic importance by date palm trees, which covers about 49% of the arable land in the country today. Dates are Oman’s biggest export commodity today.
What is to be noted is that although the bio diversity strategies produced at present are poor, there is an overwhelming national support for the conservation of animals and plants that are ‘prominent’ and ‘popular’. Examples are the Arabian Oryx, the Arabian Tahr, sea turtles, whales, juniper trees and Prosopice woodlands.