x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bani Yas a sanctuary for every rung of the food chain

Some of the threatened species that call Sir Bani Yas Island home.

A herd of Scimitar-horned Oryx lines up to observe visitors to Sir Bani Yas Island.
A herd of Scimitar-horned Oryx lines up to observe visitors to Sir Bani Yas Island.

Rock hyrax

The rock hyrax is found in large numbers across Africa and the Middle East and was probably introduced unintentionally to the island, where it has bred in large numbers. Resembling a guinea pig, the hyrax is related to the elephant, with long, tusk-like upper incisors. They live in social groups and spend much of their time basking in the sun. Among their predators are caracal cats, two of which have been introduced to the island.

Scimitar oryx

Once found across all of North Africa, the scimitar oryx is now extinct in the wild. Hunters prized the animal for its curved horns and it is believed that, like the Arabian oryx, it may have given rise to the legend of the unicorn. Animals that lose a horn by accident or in territorial fights do not regenerate it. Like the Arabian oryx, the scimitar oryx can survive in heat that would kill many other animals, and have spread hoofs adapted to walking on sand. The herd on Sir Bani Yas may be the largest in the world.


Five cheetahs live on Sir Bani Yas, of which three are allowed to hunt in the main enclosure. Fast-moving and deadly hunters, the Sir Bani Yas cheetahs come from a subspecies once found across the Arabian Peninsula, although barely 100 animals are thought to exist in the wild, almost all in Iran. Four cubs were born on the island last year, with one surviving, a much higher rate than in the wild.

Sand gazelle

With a population of 7,000 animals, the sand or rhim gazelle is the largest group on the island. By contrast, less than 2,500 survive in the wild, their numbers depleted by hunting for their horns and meat. The animal is classified as endangered, although cheetahs are the only predators on Sir Bani Yas.

Striped hyena

Often regarded as a scavenger, the striped hyena will also hunt smaller animals. Historically, the animal was found across the Middle East, Turkey, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and India, but its numbers are in decline and it is categorised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as "near vulnerable". More than a dozen striped hyena live on Sir Bani Yas, where they clean up after cheetah kills. Two cubs were born last year.