Arabian Ostrich

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Common Name: Arabian Ostrich
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus syriacus

Size: 70 inches (2 m)

Habitat: Asia; the Arabian Peninsula and in the Near East. Its range seems to have been continuous in prehistoric times, but with the drying-up of the Arabian Peninsula, it disappeared from the inhospitable areas of the Arabian Desert such as the Rub'al-Khali. In historic times, the bird seems to have occurred in two discrete relict populations: a smaller one in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula and a larger one in the area where today the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet. Towards the Sinai Peninsula, it probably intergraded with the North African subspecies camelus in earlier times.

Status: Extinct (1966). Global population: 0. The widespread introduction of firearms and, later, motor vehicles marked the start of the decline towards extinction of this subspecies. Earlier, hunting with bow, arrows and dogs had allowed most animals of a group to escape, but rifles enabled the poachers to shoot down many individuals for the sheer fun of it.

By the early 20th century, the Arabian Ostrich had become rare. Its main stronghold was the northern Nefud, northwards to the Syrian Desert between latitudes 34°N and 25°N and longitude 38°E, eastwards to the Euphrates Valley. It was most plentiful in Al Jawf Province, where it associated with herds of the now extinct Saudi Gazelle and the very rare Arabian Oryx. Some of the last sightings of the Arabian Ostrich include an individual east of the Tall al-Rasatin at the Jordanian-Iraqi border in 1928, a bird shot and eaten by pipeline workers in the area of Jubail in the early 1940s (some sources specifically state 1941), two apocryphal records of birds suffering the same fate in 1948, and a dying individual found in the upper Wadi el-Hasa north of Petra in 1966.

Diet: Seeds, grasses, bushes and forage on trees. They mainly feed on seeds and other plant matter. Because they have no teeth, they swallow pebbles that help grind the swallowed foods within their gizzard.

Nesting: Females were of a slightly lighter coloration.

Ostriches are polygamous. The male gathered around him a harem of three to five females, all of which laid their eggs in the same nest over a three week period. Ostrich mating and egg laying occurred shortly before the onset of the rainy season, so that when the chicks hatched there would be plenty of food to sustain them until they were several months old. The completed clutch was incubated by the male at night and the dominant female during the day.

Cool Facts: The only certain way to distinguish the Common Ostrich from the Arabian Ostrich was the smaller size of the latter.

The Arabian Ostrich has long had a significant place in the culture of the region. An adult with 11 offspring is featured on the famous prehistoric "Graffiti Rock I" near Riyadh.

In Mesopotamia, it was used as a sacrificial animal and also featured in artwork, being painted on cups and other objects made from ostrich eggs, which were traded as far as Etruria during the Neo-Assyrian period.

In Tang China, an ostrich was a welcome exotic gift fit for an emperor: ostriches figure in the decoration of the Qianling Mausoleum, completed and closed in 706.

The Jewish view of this bird was less favorable. The fact that the female ostrich may leave the nest unattended (because the eggs are too thick-shelled to be easily broken open by predators) is the reason why the bird is contrasted with the parental instinct of the stork in the Book of Job (Job 39:13-18.) This is also the reason why the Book of Lamentations (Lamentations 4:3) refers to the female ostrich as heartless. The Arabian Ostrich is possibly among the birds forbidden to Jews as unclean under the kashrut in Leviticus (Leviticus 11:16), though the Israelites would just as likely have known the birds from the North African subspecies which was extant in the Nile Valley of Egypt at that time.

In Roman times, there was a demand for ostriches to use in venatio games or cooking. These birds usually would have come from the North African subspecies, rather than from the Arabian one, as the latter was only found in the unruly frontier regions of the Roman Empire. It is to be noted however that much later, the plumes of the Arabian Ostrich were considered superior material for millinery compared to those of the North African subspecies.

After the rise of Islam, the Arabian Ostrich came to represent wealth and elegance. Ostrich hunting became a popular pastime for the rich and noble (if slaughtered properly, ostrich meat is halaal to Muslims). Eggs, feathers and leather were extensively used in handicrafts. Arabian Ostrich products, as well as live birds, were exported as far as China. A Tang Dynasty source states that the "camel bird" inhabiting Arabia is "four chi and more in height, its feet resembling those of a camel; its neck is very strong, and men are able to ride on its back...".

The Arabian Ostrich was also discussed in Mesopotamian scholarly writings from the time of the Baghdad Caliphate, such as Zakariya al-Qazwini's cosmography 'Aja'ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara'ib al-mawjudat, the Kitab al-Hayawan ("Book of Animals") of Al-Jahiz, or Ibn al-Manzur's dictionary Lisan al-Arab.

Found in Songbird ReMix Ostriches

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