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TIMES OF OMAN: Shell Helix co-sponsored biosphere expedition concludes

MUSCAT — The Shell Helix co-sponsored Biosphere Expeditions team founded by renowned biologist, Dr Matthias Hammer, concluded its survey of the Arabian leopard among the remote mountains and gorges of Musandam.
The expedition is especially significant, since the Arabian leopard is the last surviving species of Big Cats on the Arabian Peninsula and is a severely endangered species. Historical records and oral traditions of the region also show that Musandam has been an important habitat for the leopard and its primary prey species.
“The Biosphere Expeditions project offered us the perfect opportunity to be part of an endeavour that promoted sustainable tourism, environment conservation and enhancing awareness about the Sultanate’s unique natural wealth — all of which are issues that are extremely important to us,” said Irshad Lawati, managing director of Shell Oman.
The expedition to Musandam included ordinary individuals and scientific personnel who came to Oman as a part of the efforts of the Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment (Diwan of Royal Court) to conserve biodiversity in the Sultanate. The expedition was also supported by the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources, and the Ministry of Tourism.
Setting out on January 15 on an extensive survey of the narrow wadis and rocky valleys framed by spectacular limestone cliffs of Musandam, the team had subsequently moved deeper into the mountains. It is now established that Musandam potentially still offers a suitable habitat to accommodate Arabian leopard. However, a combination of new roads, development and severe drought over the past decade has severely threatened the habitat.
The team primarily looked for evidence of leopard presence at hotspots like waterholes, and talking to local inhabitants about possible sightings. Covering a fairly large part of Musandam in spite of daytime temperatures climbing to the high 40s and plunging to 0oC at night, the team has identified definite signs of three species of fox and caracal activity in the area. Sign of a large predator was finally discovered late in the expedition. Although analysis of samples is still to be undertaken, the team is confident that the signs point to an Arabian leopard.
“The project also has substantial implications for Oman’s wildlife conservation efforts, and for the country’s aspirations as an international destination for sustainable forms of tourism,” said Hadi Musalam Al Hikmani, of the Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment, and a key member of the expedition team.
“The local people of Musandam showed great warmth and interest in the project. Future attempts to develop wildlife and eco-tourism in this area must continue to involve the local people.
Again in this area, the expedition concludes that there is real reason for optimism for the future,” said Dominic Hall, Expedition Leader. “Musandam offers real possibilities in the future as a destination for eco-tourism; it offers dramatic scenery, and with careful management, could also support good wildlife populations,” he concluded.

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