Ralph Daly, who has died aged 82, spent the greater part of his life in the Arab world; his last 37 years were in the Sultanate of Oman.
His time in Oman was the most fulfilling period of his long and varied career, for it was there, under the aegis of Sultan Qaboos, that he was able to devote himself to the cause of wildlife conservation, and to playing a major role in resurrecting the Arabian Oryx from virtual extinction.
In 1969, two years after retiring from the Colonial Service, Daly joined the liaison department of Petroleum Development (Oman), serving as company representative in Oman’s southern province of Dhofar. His travels throughout the Sultanate gave him the opportunity to explore the country’s rich but largely unknown flora and fauna. His sighting in 1971 of a group of wild oryx in Wadi Mitan, close to the border with South Yemen, was one of the last on record.
In 1974 Daly was appointed Adviser for Conservation of the Environment in the Diwan of the Royal Court. In this post, which he retained until his retirement in 2002, he organised multidisciplinary surveys of the flora and fauna of Oman’s northern mountains (1975) and of Dhofar (1977), and was closely involved in the survey of the Wahiba Sands undertaken by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in 1986.
He also enlisted the support of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to advise on the protection of endangered species such as the Arabian tahr, marine turtles and sooty falcons.
Meanwhile, having been asked by Sultan Qaboos to try to restore the Arabian oryx to the desert of central Oman, Daly had a unique opportunity to continue the remarkable story of “Operation Oryx” which, in 1962, had led to the capture of three oryx in the sands north of Wadi Hadhramaut.
From these and six other captive animals a breeding group had been raised at Phoenix Zoo, Arizona, to save the species from extinction. In 1979 the first oryx were brought to Oman from Arizona, and in January 1982, after a lengthy preparation period, were released into the desert. Under the watchful eyes of local tribesmen the wild oryx prospered, and were joined by oryx born in captivity in Jordan and Bahrain.
By 1996 the wild population had grown to nearly 450 and roamed freely over a vast area of desert which was inscribed on the Unesco World Natural Heritage list as the “Arabian Oryx Sanctuary”. Sadly, their numbers were later much reduced by an outbreak of poaching.
Daly’s work with WWF, IUCN and the Flora and Fauna Preservation Society (FFI), and the Sultanate’s generous support of the Sir Peter Scott Fund, helped Oman to become a major player in biodiversity conservation.
Daly’s outstanding service in this field won him the Order of Oman (Civil) in 1980, the Order of the Golden Ark in 1985, and he was later honoured by the RGS, the FFI, and the University of Durham.
Ralph Hinshelwood Daly, the son of an Army officer, was born in Glasgow on January 26 1924 and educated at Sherborne. An early interest in falconry and regular visits to fish in the hill lochs of Scotland were to inspire his love of natural history. He was commissioned into the Welsh Guards in 1944, and fought with the Guards’ Armoured Division in its advance into northern Europe in the spring of 1945.
After his release from the Army in 1947 he joined the Sudan Political Service, serving as an assistant district commissioner in the office of the Governor of Khartoum before being sent on an Arabic course to the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies in Lebanon.
On his return he was posted to the province of Kordofan, where he remained until the Sudan’s approaching independence led to his transfer to the Colonial Service. In 1955 he was posted to the Eastern Aden Protectorate on the staff of Colonel Hugh Boustead, the British Resident Adviser in Mukalla, who had also served in the Sudan.
As Assistant Adviser Northern Areas, based at Seiyun, Wadi Hadhramaut, Daly’s responsibilities included a famine prevention scheme, providing agricultural loans and water pumps to local farmers. Schooled in the paternalist ethos of the Sudan, Daly relished the opportunity to immerse himself in grass-roots development, for which his fluent command of vernacular Arabic well qualified him.
Daly was a compelling raconteur, an attribute greatly prized in Arab society. This, his impish humour and richly sonorous voice helped him win the confidence of the Arabs whose welfare he worked to promote. It was at Seiyun that he first learnt of the destruction of the Arabian oryx by motorised hunting parties from outside the Protectorate.
Daly’s next appointment was as a Senior Political Officer in the Western Aden Protectorate. This coincided with the outbreak of civil war in Yemen, which was to cause him considerable problems when the ill-defined and porous border between Yemen and Beihan became the springboard for hostile incursions from the north.
During this troubled period he met and married his wife Elizabeth. In 1963 he returned to Mukalla as Acting Resident Adviser before being seconded to the ill-starred Federation of South Arabia. In October 1967, shortly before South Arabia achieved independence as the People’s Republic of South Yemen, he retired from the Colonial Service. He was appointed OBE.
Ralph Daly died on September 24 and was buried in Oman. He is survived by his wife, who shared his strong affection for the country which became their home.