In the foothills of the Sarawat Mountains, next to the town of Taif, lies the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC). Located just east of Mecca and just high enough in elevation to offer cooler temperatures than surrounding locales, the area is a popular summer vacation spot and known in part for its agriculture. While the lands surrounding the NWRC specialize in pomegranates, figs, grapes, and roses, the research center protects a different sort of natural diversity.
The Saudi Wildlife Authority was founded in 1986 and immediately established 15 protected natural areas across the country. In nearly the same breath, the authority opened two research centers designated for the breeding and reintroduction of indigenous animal species. The NWRC was one of these; the second, the Kind Khaled Wildlife Research Center, lies near Riyadh.
The NWRC began with a focus primarily on the Asian houbara bustard, the Arabian oryx, and the red-necked ostrich (the closest existing relative of the now-extinct Syrian ostrich). In recent years, the center has also bred and cared for the Arabian leopard, two types of gazelle, the Nubian ibex, African cheetahs, caracals, Arabian wolves, striped hyenas, and more.
When the NWRC reintroduces these species to the wild, it generally does so in one of a number of protected natural areas. A number of houbara bustards, oryx, ostriches, and gazelles have been released in the nearby Sayd Reserve, located 160 kilometers northeast of the NWRC in the Najd Plateau. The center has also released a number of oryx in a reserve area on the western edge of the Empty Quarter.
The NWRC also conducts additional research in collaboration with a variety of international bodies and supports public conservation awareness programs throughout the country.