The King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre (KKWRC) was founded in 1987 by the Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA). The centre was given the mission of managing and developing the private animal collection of the late King Khalid. This collection contained over 600 animals of 20 different species, including a number of valuable Arabian species. The animals were kept in a 600 ha enclosure on the King's ranch Thumamah, which lies about 70 km north of Riyadh at the foot of the scenic Urumah escarpment
To facilitate the work of the centre, the SWA constructed a laboratory and office block close to the original enclosure, as well as more than 70 breeding pens, each about 0.5 ha in area. The centre was also given the use of the stables complex at Thumamah.
All the activities of the centre are aimed at implementing the policies of the SWA, which are determined by its Board of Governors under the leadership of its Chairman, His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz.
In the five years of the cnetre's existence the animal collection has grown to nearly 500 specimens and it has been completely reorganized. Most non-Arabian species have been moved out and priority has been given to native Arabian species such as Oryx, Idmi and Rheem. Scientific captive breeding programs have been developed for these species, using the late King's animals as founder stock. Rheem and Idmi are the most numerous species, and both are now being reintroduced into the wild.
To run successful captive breeding and reintroduction programs a range of activities are necessary. Animals must be fed and cared for and they must frequently be captured and handled, either for veterinary purposes or to move them to new locations, such as reintroduction sites. Research into scientific and veterinary issues must be undertaken to improve the prospects of successfully returning indigenous animals to the wild. The public must be informed and educated about the aims and value of conservation programs.
Situated about 5 km from the laboratory breeding pens and original enclosure, the headquarters building is adjoined by a complex of stables and paddocks, all of which are intensively used for quarantine, clinical care, animal management and research. Ongoing research includes investigation of gazelle ecophysiology and reproductive biology..
KKWRC's laboratory has a sophisticated diagnostic capability, which has been intensively and successfully used to solve disease problems. It also has a growing scientific capabilities, with current activities including research into gazelle genetics. The breeding pens house hundred of gazelles of size different species - Afri, Dorcas, Idmi, rheem, Sommerings and Thompson's.
The areas of Thumamah which surround KKWRC support indigenous Arabian flora and fauna - the Dhub being a particularly common species. Research on the native flora and fauna is one of the centre's objectives. Ongoing activities include a project on the small carnivores of Thumamah, which is being undertaken in collaboration with the University of Oxford.
The SWA's captive herd of Arabian Oryx, now kept at the National Wildlife Research Centre near Taif, was formed with founder stock from the late King Khalid's collection at Thumamah. A small herd of Oryx is maintained at KKWRC for educational and aesthetic purposes.
To reorganize King Khalid's collection it was necessary to capture all of the hundreds of animals in the original 600 ha enclosure - a formidable undertaking. Accomplishing it required the use of various capture techniques. The one shown in the photograph is a new capture system, invented in New Zealand. Food is used to entice animals into a small area surrounded by poles supporting heavy weights, which are attached to plastic sheeting buried in the ground between the poles. When animals enter the trap to consume the food, a trigger is pulled and the weights drop down, pulling up the plastic sheeting and surrounding the animals, which can then be caught by hand. The purpose of capturing idmi and rheem in this way is to prepare them for introduction into the wild. Around 100 idmi and rheem from Thumamah have now been returned to the wild.
Situated about 200 km south of Riyadh, the National Ibex Reserve is the site of an ongoing idmi reintroduction project.
Idmi fitted with a radio-collar before translocation to the National Ibex Reserve. This collar will enable scientists to track the animal to see how successfully it adapts to life in the wild.
Idmi in a pre-release area in the National Ibex Reserve, where they are held to enable them to become habituated to their living conditions before they are released.
Radio-collard male idmi, thriving in the National Ibex Reserve more than a year after breeding released.
Because of its closeness to Riyadh, the centre is well placed to inform and educate the public about the aims and value of conservation. In particular, he vital task of informing the youth of today about the responsibilities of tomorrow is one of the most important challenges facing KKWRC and its parent organization, the SWA.