Country Profiles

Saudi Arabia - Country Profile

Status and Trends of Biodiversity


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is about 1,969,000 km2 in area making it the tenth largest country covering 1.64% of the land area of the world, and 8% of the land area of Asia. The flora of Saudi Arabia reflects the geographical position of the Arabian Peninsula between Africa, Asia and Europe. There are 2,250 species of flowering plants in Saudi Arabia of which some 246 species are considered regionally endemic. About 450 species (18%) of flowering plants have direct benefits to human beings and 45 species (1.8%) are poisonous. Some 334 species (13.4%) are used in folk medicine or are known to have medicinal value. The varied biodiversity of Saudi Arabia stems from its pivotal location between Africa and Eurasia, which allows elements of both regions to intermingle. There are 93 mammal species, 432 bird species, 9 freshwater fish species, 103 reptiles and 7 amphibians found in Saudi Arabia. Some major threats to biodiversity include: habitat destruction and fragmentation, over-grazing, over-hunting, changes to intensive modern agricultural practices, pollution, recreational activities, expansion of urban areas and exotic, invasive species.

Number and Extent of Protected Areas

To date, 15 protected areas, covering almost 4% of the country’s surface conserve all the major physiographic regions, half the country’s biotopes, key wetlands, marine and mountain habitats and protect viable populations of endemic, endangered and key plant and animal species.

Percentage of Forest Cover

About a 2.7 million hectares of woodlands is still remaining in the mountains of Saudi Arabia particularly in the remote steep and inaccessible areas.

The Juniper woodlands are one of the few densely wooded habitats in Saudi Arabia. They are concentrated in a narrow belt about 7,600 square kilometers in size. Juniper woodlands thrive at attitudes of 2000 – 3000 meters, and are characterized by some of the highest species diversity and biomass in Saudi Arabia.

The wide olive woodlands commence on slopes that are 1500 – 2000 meters high and intermix with juniper stands.

In addition to the mountain woodlands there are the arid woodlands, which are primarily acacias in the desert and mangroves along the coasts.

Factors limiting to expanding forests and woodlands include lack of sufficient rainfall, high cost of reforestation programs and lack of enough qualified foresters in Saudi Arabia.

The threats to forests are uncontrolled cutting live branches to feed livestock; urban expansion in wooded areas and indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemical pollution.

National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan

Major features of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

A National Biodiversity Strategy for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was prepared by the National Biodiversity Committee. At this moment this strategy is submitted to the Ministerial Council for consideration and approval. This Strategy is divided into five parts:

Part One introduces the purpose and scope of the National Biodiversity Strategy which is to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of its resources by placing it at the centre of national planning and development .The scope of the Strategy is broad and includes the protection, restoration, sustainable use, equitable sharing, and systematic monitoring of Saudi Arabia’s biodiversity. Part one also contains the introduction to the Convention of Biological Diversity.

Part Two looks at Islamic vision and basic principles guiding the conservation of biological and stress the fact that the conservation of the natural environment is an imperative command of Allah. The protection of the natural environment from abuse by man leads to the welfare of man himself together with that of all other beings.

Part Three reviews the status of terrestrial biodiversity with its 2250 species of flora, 76 species of mammals , 444 species of birds , amphibians , reptiles and insects. The status of marine and freshwater biodiversity is also covered. The major threat for each of those sectors is discussed.

Part four contains seventeen strategic goals for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity that include In-situ Conservation both Inside & outside Protected Areas; Ex-situ Conservation ;Conserve and Develop Forest and Woodlands, Desert Rangelands, Living Marine Resources, Agricultural Biodiversity, Regulate Access to Genetic Resource and Introduce National Biosafety Standards; Update and Enforce Environmental Legislation; Support Scientific Research; Enhance Environmental Education ; Achieve Socio-Economic Development; Encourage Collaborative Management and Promote Cooperation for Biodiversity; Generate Income from Wildlife Resources and Develop Nature Based Tourism

Part Five deals with mechanism for implementing and monitoring the strategy and stress the fact that all the government agencies, non-governmental organizations, scientific institutions and local stakeholders in Saudi Arabia will need to participate. The mechanism for implemting the strategy includes an organizational chart and a description of its components.

After the cabinet approval of the strategy a seventeen sets of proposed action plans will be set in action to serve as a guide for the implementation of the strategic goals. The final detailed working action plans for each stage will need to be individually prepared and implemented by those ministries, organizations or institutions that have been identified in the strategy as well as cross sect oral coordination among all parties concerned.

Implementation of the Convention

Measures Taken to Achieve the 2010 Target

Extensive National efforts are being exerted in the field of enhancing environmental education and public awareness, building capacity of personnels working in the conservation field, expanding establishment of new protected areas in accordance with the National System Plan, properly managing existing protected areas while recalling traditional practices of land use and encouraging sustainable use of natural resources in the country. These all contribute towards achieving the 2010 target.

Initiatives in Protected Areas

The Kingdom has developed a National System Plan of Protected Areas to cover ca 10 % of the total Kingdom’s area. These protected areas are both terrestrial and marine that conserve full representations of biotopes, ecosystems and physiographic features in the country. The individual nominated protected areas were all selected in accordance with a sound set of guidelines and criteria. All declared protected areas are managed to conserve their biological diversity. Sustainable use of the natural resources of some of these protected areas is regulated.

Initiatives in Access and Benefit Sharing

Saudi Arabia does not restrict access by any other parties to its genetic resources provided that the concerned party states in writing that the genetic material is used strictly for research and scientific purposes and not for commercial purposes. At present national bylaws are being decreed to lay the legal bases for access of other parties to the Kingdom’s genetic resources in accordance with CBD. Thematic Report on Access and Benefit Sharing - English
Thematic Report on Access and Benefit Sharing - English

Initiatives for Article 8(j)

Although much of the knowledge, innovation , and practices of indigenous and local communities in the kingdom, embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are in most part no longer in wide practice , the Kingdom is reviving the lessons learnt from the old Hima System which proved a very useful lifestyle for land use. Moreover the traditional old methods of mountain terrace cultivation and rainfall collection is being supported. Most of these traditional knowledge have been or they are in the way of being documented.