Sightings are rare, much like in some nature reserves. Fortune favours those who know where to look, when to look. You will mostly sight the animals by chance, perched atop the hill to your right as you drive down Qurm Heights after the nodding donkey pump and the PDO Camp gate.
While the Arabian oryx are safely hidden behind foliage, you may just chance upon a fleeting glimpse of the mountain goats as they graze, oblivious to the traffic below.
If you’re driving, best avoid trying your luck from that angle at the steering wheel – you’ll end up with a crick in your neck or, worse still, be in an accident. But if you drive slowly, passengers on the right side of the car may get lucky.
So how did the animals get up there in the middle of the city? Close to 25 years ago – for want of official confirmation – Muscat Municipality installed these glass reinforced plastic (GRP) animals with the objective of presenting wildlife, especially those indigenous to the sultanate like the Arabian oryx and mountain goat, to the general public. It was about the same time that nature reserves had been marked for the Arabian oryx through a Royal Decree.
“Additionally, the idea was to present these animals to visitors of Oman, particularly those who cannot see them in natural state,” said Adil al Asfoor, former director of Muscat Municipality’s Central Design Department.
In 2008, he retired from Muscat Municipality after a stint of 18 years.
The brainchild of Asfoor, the project was undertaken in 1992-1994. According to another account, however, that of GRP technician Matbar Yadav employed by Amiantit Oman - the company commissioned by Muscat Municipality for the project - the animals were installed between 1991 and 1992.
While the installations still stand strong, looking as good as new today, the details of the project are lost in office files and gathering cobwebs in the deep recesses of memory.
Yadav, who came to Oman in 1981, is currently the only remaining employee of Amiantit Oman from the time that this project was commissioned. Though the technology has changed since, the installations required 8-10 moulds for each animal. “It took 3-4 days to make one animal. GRP is very strong; it stands for more that 50 years,” he vouched for the installations.
Shivkumar Nair, assistant general manager of Amiantit Oman, informed that it was the only fibreglass company in the country 20 years ago. “The municipality's objective could have been to give a natural look to the hills with wild animal artefacts. We are not able to trace out the officers involved during commissioning of the project.”
From what he remembers, Asfoor’s team provided Amiantit Oman the design for the installations. While a sense of proportion was important, they factored in the distance from Qurm Heights and the angle from where motorists would view the animals.
“I must appreciate the efforts Amiantit Oman put into this project to bring about this level of beauty. This is considered one of their unique projects,” Asfoor said.
The project elicited more than the expected response. Passers-by were caught by surprise at the sight of oryx and mountain goats grazing atop hills in the middle of the capital. “It was much appreciated by the public, especially expatriates. I remember receiving many calls.”
Once the word spread, Amiantit Oman benefited, too, with government projects commissioned in Musannah, Ibri and townships further away, besides private orders.
But with time, the novelty of the project faded away. An overgrowth of foliage covers the oryx, while the mountain goats are only momentarily seen from a certain angle on Qurm Heights. “Unfortunately, this is because of lack of follow ups and maintenance by the concerned departments in Muscat Municipality over all these years. This is an opportunity to bring to their attention to take care of these elements which add beauty to our country, in general, as well as the capital,” said Asfoor.