More than 1,500 endangered animals began being released in Saudi Arabia's AlUla on Tuesday.
The Royal Commission for AlUla's largest release project involves four species in five phases.
Arabian gazelles, Sand gazelles, Arabian oryx and Nubian ibex will be let go in three of AlUla’s nature reserves: Sharaan, Wadi Nakhlah and Al Gharameel.
AlUla's reserves span more than 12,400 square kilometres.
The latest release is the largest since the commission's reintroduction programme began in February 2019.
“The animal release programme demonstrates how RCU is going to great lengths to promote habitat regeneration and the restoration of native animal species in north-west Saudi Arabia,” said Dr Stephen Browne, the commission's Wildlife and Natural Heritage executive director.
“As a result, we are a growing player in biodiversity restoration and conservation regionally and internationally.”
The release will include 650 Arabian gazelles, 550 Sand gazelles, 280 Arabian oryx and 100 Nubian ibex for a total of 1,580 animals. The first phase, on January 10, saw 80 animals released.
Conservation efforts are also focused on harvesting native vegetation and the development of new infrastructure including quarantine enclosures.
All of the animals have satellite tracking collars and will be monitored by the commission's ranger force.
This is the first time that the lightweight, solar-powered collars will be used for ungulate species in the region.
The commission is hoping to release five times as many animals this year that it did in 2022.
“Animal reintroduction is conducted in line with best practices and International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines, including quarantine before release, monitoring after release and in-depth analysis of the monitoring results,” said commission zoologist Yousef Alfaifi.
The released animals have been sourced from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The commission has conducted extensive genetic and physical screening and health checks to ensure their fitness for release.
Dr Browne said the reintroduction of the Arabian leopard, an apex predator, would be the crowning achievement of the regeneration project. It is planned for 2030.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classes the Arabian leopard as critically endangered.