Foxes, vipers, bats and orchids: How Fujairah hosts some of region's most amazing species

Dolphins, whales, geckos and plants used in traditional medicine are all featured in a new book series

Powered by automated translation

From striped dolphins to red foxes, horned vipers and the UAE’s only orchid, the animals and plants found in Fujairah – and the habitats they live in – are endlessly varied and interesting.

Their full diversity is featured in a new series of books on the natural world in the emirate, the first of which, The Natural History of Fujairah, features about 900 photographs and input from 16 experts.

Among the animals included is the beautiful Arabian red fox (Vulpes vulpes arabs), which is characterised by its huge ears, their large size helping the animal to lose heat. This subspecies also has furrier feet to protect against hot surfaces.

Another of Fujairah’s many mammals is the Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari), a goat-like animal largely restricted to the Hajar mountains of the UAE and Oman. It feeds on vegetation such as grasses and leaves, and comes down from the mountains to drink from wadis.

In Fujairah, we have a good variety of habitats – from the desert to the mountains, green wadis and the sea
Balazs Buzas

Much smaller mammals are also featured in the books, including the Muscat mouse-tailed bat (Rhinopoma muscatellum), which has a body that is only 5cm to 6cm long.

Seven books will be published, with subsequent titles covering archaeology, whales and dolphins, plants, birds, herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) and geology.

They are being published under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah and chairman of the board of directors of the Fujairah Environment Authority.

Aims of the series include highlighting the importance of preserving Fujairah’s nature, showing how humans have affected the environment and demonstrating the natural world’s resilience to threats such as climate change.

Peter Hellyer, the well-known historian, researcher and writer who died last year, was involved in producing the first book, while Dr Michele Ziolkowski, an archaeologist who has written a number of previous books about the UAE, is a co-editor and co-author.

The inaugural volume’s co-editor and photo editor is Balazs Buzas, a Hungarian zoologist who came to the Emirates to work as a zoo manager at Al Mayya Sanctuary before becoming involved in wildlife research and establishing a scientific specimen collection.

“In Fujairah, we have a good variety of habitats – from the desert to the mountains, green wadis and the sea, with shallow reefs to deep offshore areas,” Mr Buzas said.

“Migrating animals such as sea birds, cetaceans and sharks visit the coast from the Indian Ocean and we have endemic species in the Hajar Mountains.”

Among the animals in Fujairah’s waters is the rarely spotted dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima), one of which was, Mr Buzas said, found stranded on one of the emirate’s beaches a number of years ago.

Another notable marine mammal is the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), which is recorded occasionally in the Indian Ocean but is also breeding in Fujairah.

There are eight species of sea snakes, of which very little was known about them until Mr Buzas and veterinary surgeon, Dr Csaba Geczy began researching them a few years ago.

“In many topics, the authors of the chapters could rely on the research results accumulated over the past decades, but in certain areas, for example marine, research only started a decade ago,” he said.

“Fortunately, in this case, so much information has been gathered in a short time, which made it necessary to write further books in addition to the chapters published in this book.”

The research

Mr Buzas undertook a major analysis of the whales and dolphins of Fujairah with Robert Baldwin, an Oman-based marine scientist and environmental consultant, while analysis of data on reptiles and amphibians was carried out with Balazs Farkas, co-author of the coming herpetofauna book.

Fujairah plays host to a rich array of reptiles, including the Persian horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus), a venomous snake that is also found in Iran and has horn-like projections above its eyes. This snake primarily eats small mammals and reptiles.

Another venomous snake is the Oman saw-scaled viper (Echis omanensis), a beautifully patterned reptile that is found only in the UAE and Oman.

Even by the standards of geckos, which typically have toes that are spread apart, the splayed feet of Orlov’s fan-footed gecko (Ptyodactylus orlovi) are striking.

This animal, named after a Russian scientist who studied reptiles, Nikolai Orlov, prefers rocky habitats.

Still work to do

Despite the recent flurry of research, Mr Buzas said there were many areas of Fujairah’s natural history that still need to be analysed thoroughly.

The Gulf of Oman, off Fujairah’s coast, is in need of detailed mapping and analysis, as are migratory animals, including fish and sea birds.

While a wide selection of photographs was available for the books – Mr Buzas himself has taken images that will be used in all seven volumes – some creatures have been captured on camera only rarely.

“Nobody had a good photo of the Arabian white-toothed shrew (Crocidura arabica) and only few people are taking photos of insects,” he said.

“I would like to encourage photographers living here or visiting the UAE to focus on the small things and not only on nice landscapes, because it’s important to document all living things.”

Plant life

Fujairah’s plant life is no less interesting than its animals.

Among the notable ones is the Gems of the Hills plant (Desmidorchis arabica), traditionally used to treat liver problems and skin conditions such as sunburn and itchiness.

“It is found throughout the Arabian Peninsula and, in some places, it can be at risk due to over-collection to sell in local markets,” Mr Buzas said.

Another attractive flowering plant is the eastern marsh helleborine (Epipactis veratrifolia), which is the UAE’s only orchid.

Found only in localised populations near springs, it is classed as vulnerable on the UAE National Red List of Vascular Plants.

Updated: February 02, 2024, 1:24 PM