As efforts to protect the Arabian sand cat get under way in Al Ain, Kelly Crane takes a look at what animal experts across the UAE do towards the conservation of local species.
Skyscrapers, giant shopping malls and a Ferrari parked on every corner is the image Dubai portrays best. A glitzy destination and celebrity hotspot, even the city’s residents fall short of knowing the rich history, especially when it comes to the Arabian gazelle, marine turtle, oryx and sand cat.
As Dubai continues to grow into the metropolis we know today, so too has the need for environmental awareness and conservation.
The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) is the UAE’s first national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty protected by new laws. The Marine Turtle Conservation Project, launched in 2010 by Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF, better helps understand the conservation needs of turtles in the Gulf. And then we have Al Ain Zoo, a belt of fantastic felines against an impressive backdrop, Jebel Hafeet.
And, according to conservation officer, Lisa Banfield, the UAE is doing more than people realise.
‘Maintaining genetic diversity in a captive population of limited size is important,’ she says. ‘We embarked on an ambitious project to genetically screen populations of high conservation value.’
Joining forces tith Wildgenes, part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Banfield and her staff have been researching key species including the Arabian and Scimitar-horned oryx.
‘We live in our cars and in air-conditioned buildings. It’s easy to get separated from nature and forget how dependent we actually are on it, in terms of clean air, water, food and many other things,’ says Banfield. ‘The desert has helped shape the culture and traditions of the Emirati people and destroying it means destroying heritage.’
Environmental education was the vision of the late HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, himself a conservation visionary.
‘We shall continue to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage,’ he said.
Hawksbill turtles have lived on the planet for millions of years, but as a result of human activity are now listed as critically endangered in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.
Melissa Matthewsof the Emirates Wildlife Society, says change is necessary.
‘The odds are against them with human-induced threats, accidental capture in fishing nets, pollution and climate change. The Marine Turtle Conservation Project was launched by EWS-WWF in 2010, to contribute to the protection of Hawksbill turtles in the Gulf.’ Tracking up to 75 post-nesting female Hawksbills across Oman, the UAE, Iran and Qatar using satellite-tracking technology, this project has tagged 31 turtles in three countries.More than 60,000 children are educated each year, thanks to Al Ain Zoo and EWS.
‘The lions and tigers get people to the zoo but the education is around the local species. By doing this we can encourage visitors to support native wildlife – even if it’s just putting up a few bird-nesting boxes in the garden.’
Visit www.awpr.ae, www.gulfturtles.com and www.ddcr.org for more information.
Where to see the wildlife
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR)
A unique and beautiful desert habitat with many threatened flora and fauna species. The reserve was created for the protection of endangered species.
The Marine Turtle Conservation Project
Support the cause by purchasing an adoption pack, including certificate of adoption, sticker, toy turtle, and fun turtle facts. To see turtles, head to hotels on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, a protected nesting ground.
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary (RAKWS)
The nation’s first Ramsar wetland site, located at the head of the 14km-long Dubai Creek. An important eco-tourism destination the highlight is the flamingo population.