Oman's Oryx Sanctuary Off World Heritage List: 22 Sites Inscribed

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, July 2, 2007 (ENS) - Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, inhabited by the rare species of long horned antelope, has become the first site ever to be deleted from the World Heritage List since UNESCO's 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage entered into force.

At its meeting in Christchurch, which concludes today, the World Heritage Committee deleted the property because of Oman's decision to reduce the size of the protected area by 90 percent, in contravention of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention.

The Arabian oryx is vanishing due to poaching, and now oil exploration in its sanctuary. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
This was viewed by the Committee as destroying the outstanding universal value of the sanctuary in the Wusta region, which was created in 1994 by Royal Decree and inscribed on the World Heritage List that same year.

In 1996, the population of the Arabian oryx in the site stood at 450, but due to poaching and habitat degradation, oryx numbers have dwindled to 65 animals with only about four breeding pairs, making viability of this population uncertain.

After extensive consultation with the government of Oman, the Committee felt that the unilateral reduction in the size of the sanctuary and plans to proceed with hydrocarbon prospection would destroy the value and integrity of the site.

The sanctuary is also inhabited by other endangered species, including the Arabian gazelle and houbara bustard.

Over 600 international delegates are in attendance at the 10 day Christchurch meeting, which is closed to the public.

The Committee also inscribed 22 new sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List during its session in Christchurch. The new inscriptions include 16 cultural, five natural and one mixed, cultural and natural, property.

The IUCN-World Conservation Union, whose independent advisory role is written into the text of the Convention, made five recommendations for new inscriptions and one for a site extension and all were adopted by the Committee.

The newly inscribed natural sites and cultural sites with natural elements are found in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Africa:

The Rainforests of the Atsinanana in Madagascar - encompassing six national parks distributed along the eastern part of the island - was inscribed as a natural property.

Madagascar's Masoala National Park, one of the six parks in the new World Heritage Site. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Having separated from all other land masses more than 60 million years ago, Madagascar's plant and animal life evolved in isolation.

Inscribed both for their importance to ecological and biological processes, the rainforests are also inscribed for their biodiversity and the threatened species they support. The rate of endemism within these forests is exceptionally high at 80 to 90 percent for all species groups. The property is of global significance for primates. Many rare and threatened species, including at least 25 species of lemur, inhabit this site.

Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne, IUCN vice-president and a member of the IUCN delegation in Christchurch, said, "The inscription of the exceptionally diverse rainforests of eastern Madagascar on the World Heritage List, following IUCN's positive recommendation, is a great success story for Madagascar and global biodiversity conservation."

Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda in Gabon was inscribed as a mixed site, both cultural and natural. It is the country's first World Heritage site.

The Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda in Gabon (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The Gabonese delegation in Christchurch welcomed this news and thanked the international nongovernmental organizations that have been supporting them in the conservation of this site.

"This is a great achievement," said Allen Putney, IUCN's World Commission for Protected Areas vice-chair for World Heritage.

"Lopé-Okanda joins the small circle of World Heritage sites that are inscribed for both their outstanding natural and cultural values, such as New Zealand's Tongariro National Park, Peru's Machu Picchu and South Africa's Drakensberg Park."

South Africa's Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape of dramatic mountainous deserts in the northwest of the country was inscribed as a cultural landscape communally owned and managed by the semi-nomadic Nama people.

"The seasonal migrations of graziers between stockposts with traditional demountable mat-roofed houses, haru oms, reflect a practice that was once much more widespread over Southern Africa, and which has persisted for at least two millennia; the Nama are now its last practitioners," the Committee said.

Twyfelfontein or Ui-aes in Namibia was inscribed as a cultural site for its large concentration of prehistoric and historic rock carvings.

Asia

South China Karst was added to the list as a natural site, unrivalled in terms of the diversity of its karst features and landscapes.

The inscribed site comprises three clusters, Libo, Shilin and Wulong, which have been specifically selected to protect and present the best examples of these karst landscapes in the world, the IUCN said, adding, "The site includes superlative cone and tower karsts, stone forests, and impressive natural bridges."

David Sheppard, who heads the IUCN delegation in Christchurch, said, "The South China Karst site represents one of the world's most spectacular examples of karst landscapes. IUCN particularly welcomes the recognition of the importance of the meaningful involvement of local people in the management of this World Heritage site."

Mount Hallasan, onKorea's southernmost island is now a World Heritage site. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Jeju Volcanic Islands and Lava Tubes in South Korea was inscribed as a natural property of outstanding beauty which bears testimony to the history of the planet.

Korea's first natural World Heritage site is Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes, which comprises three sites that together make up 10.3 percent of the surface area of Jeju Island, the southernmost territory of the Republic of Korea.

This shield volcano is some 1.2 million years old and rises to 1,950 meters with Mount Hallasan, Korea's highest peak.

Jeju's Geomunoreum lava tube system is regarded as the finest such cave system in the world.

Europe

And the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape of Azerbaijan was inscribed as an outstanding collection of some 6,000 rock engravings bearing testimony to 4,000 years of rock art.

The rock art of Gobustan in Azerbaijan is now on the World Heritage List (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

 

On a plateau of rocky boulders rising out of the semi-desert of central Azerbaijan, the site also features the remains of settlements and burials, all reflecting an intensive human settlement during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age, from the Upper Palaeolithic period to the Middle Ages. The property is part of the larger protected Gobustan Reservation.

Spain's Teide National Park in the Canary Islands was listed as a natural site for its beauty and its importance in providing evidence of the geological processes that underpin the evolution of oceanic islands.

In Switzerland, the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces was inscribed as a cultural landscape that is an outstanding example of centuries-long interaction between people and their environment developed to optimize local resources so as to produce a highly valued wine.

Although there is some evidence that vines were grown here in Roman times, the present vine terraces can be traced back to the 11th century, when Benedictine and Cistercian Monasteries controlled the area.

The Primeval Beech Forest of the Carpathian in Ukraine and Slovakia, was inscribed as a transnational serial natural property of 10 separate components and as an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests exhibiting the most complete ecological patterns and processes of pure stands of European beech.

Sheppard said, "The primeval forests of the Carpathians are indispensable to understanding the evolution and ecology of beech forests, which are globally significant given their wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere."

World Heritage in Danger

The Committee also removed four sites from the List of World Heritage in Danger, recognizing improvements in their conservation - Everglades National Park in the United States, the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, the Royal Palaces of Abomey in Benin, and Nepal's Kathmandu Valley.

Three World Heritage sites were inscribed on the Danger List because of concern about threats to their preservation - Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park, the Samarra Archaeological City in Iraq was inscribed as a cultural site for its rich Abbassid remains.

The Committee also decided to extend the boundaries of Switzerland's Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn inscribed in 2001.

For more ENS coverage of this year's World Heritage Committee Meeting, see: Exceptional Natural Sites Proposed for World Heritage Status

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.