Emirates celebrates desert conservation project


The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is one of the best locations in the UAE to view pristine desert landscapes.


The Emirates Group celebrates a 20-year partnership with the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) this year.


The DDCR covers 225 sq km and makes up almost five per cent of the emirate. Last year, it attracted 238,000 visitors who came to experience dune drives, desert safaris and traditional Arabian experiences.


But only a small area is allotted to tourist activities. The reserve is also the best location in the United Arab Emirates to see pristine desert landscapes and indigenous wildlife, such as the Arabian oryx, sand gazelle and Arabian Gazelle, as well as more elusive species like the Houbara bustard, Arabian red fox and the desert eagle owl.


The DDCR was established to conserve a representation of the original landscapes and indigenous fauna and flora of Dubai’s inland desert region. It was hoped careful management would lead to re-wilding of the desert habitat.


In 1999, Emirates established the Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa in Dubai with a 27 sq km conservation reserve. In its first years, 70 Arabian oryx were reintroduced and 6,000 indigenous trees and shrubs planted.


This project became the foundation for the DDCR, which was created and expanded in 2003 to cover 225 sq km, the biggest piece of land Dubai has ever dedicated to a single project.


Last year, the reserve worked with local and international experts on programmes that track, protect and reintroduce indigenous species to the United Arab Emirates. As of March this year, the reserve was home to 800 Arabian oryx, 450 Arabian gazelles and around 120 sand gazelles.


The reserve also partnered with the National Aviation Research Centre and the office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum earlier this year to release 250 MacQueen’s bustards into the reserve. The bird species is classified as vulnerable due to a rapid population decline.


According to DDCR conservationists, the main threats to the natural environment are urban expansion and overgrazing from domestic livestock.


“The DDCR provides a balance to Dubai’s growth and rapid urbanisation,” explains His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktourm, Emirates Group chairman and chief executive. “It ensures the conservation of our desert areas and unique wildlife… It’s an investment in our heritage and in our future.”


Emirates has invested AED 28 million since the reserve was established. These funds have been used to cover operational costs, enabling monies from visitors to the DDCR to be channelled into conservation support programmes and environmental research.


Future plans include a Desert Visitor Centre which is set to open next year. It’s hoped the centre will provide an educational support programme for visitors, connect them with the desert environment and garner support for conservation.


The pandemic forced the closure of the reserve in March, but it reopened in June and is now open year-round to visitors; local guides tell us that every season provides exciting experiences to see different species, but the best time of year for clear skies and comfortable temperatures is from November to April. “The desert environment has a natural peacefulness which is very unique,” they say.


Contact the DDCR online to find out more about the activities offered in this stunning corner of the Middle East.


Dubai reopened to international tourists in July.


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