Abu Dhabi survey offers insight into desert wildlife populations

An eight-day aerial survey conducted by the Environmental Agency-Abu Dhabi revealed that the emirate is home to camels, gazelles, oryx and 13 bird species

It’s not just camels out there. A 14,000 square kilometre survey of Abu Dhabi found that, though the emirate’s rural areas average one camel for every two kilometres, they are also home to sand gazelles, oryx and the sooty falcon.

The aerial survey conducted by the Environmental Agency-Abu Dhabi covered a quarter of the emirate’s land. It is the largest terrestrial survey of its kind in Abu Dhabi and covered three areas, Baynunah and the Houbara Protected Area, the desert west of the Liwa Crescent and the deserts bordering Hameem Road.

In addition to the 6,839 Arabian camels, the survey found 281 Sand Gazelles and 241 Mountain Gazelles, as well as Arabian Oryx, the Red Fox and the Cape Hare. There were 13 bird species recorded, included the Greater Flamingo, Houbara Bustard, the Peregrine Falcon and the Sooty Falcon.

Activities that could threaten wildlife populations were observed during the eight-day survey.

“These results have provided more exact data and have generated a baseline of information to which future surveys can be compared,” said said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, acting secretary general of agency.

“The terrestrial aerial survey has also noted activities within the surveyed areas that may have negative impacts on the local wildlife populations, which is key in supporting and guiding future conservation measures to protect and preserve Abu Dhabi’s native biodiversity.”

The study follows a 2017 assessment of the emirate’s oryx and aerial surveys measuring the dugong population.

Such work is fundamental to conservation and policy, said Dr Salim Javed, acting director of the agency’s Terrestrial Biodiversity.

“Understanding the population size and mapping the species distribution are one of the first steps towards the development of an effective management regime for key animal populations,” said Dr Javed in a statement. “Additionally, the aerial survey is an important in-house capacity building exercise for EAD’s team of young Emirati scientists.”

Surveys like this can be used by the authority to suggest legislation for species protection or to monitor the implementation of environmental laws.

In addition to aerial surveys, camera traps have been instrumental in recording elusive desert species. While species are under threat due to development, pollution and climate change, there are moments of hope and even the largest land mammals can bring some surprises. In February, footage of the Arabian Caracal was caught on camera in Jebel Hafeet, 35 years after its last sighting in Abu Dhabi.

In March, the Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana) was recorded on camera for the first time in 17 years. The quills and footprints of the Crested Porcupine were seeb in Al Dhafra in late 2017, long after it was believed to have disappeared from Abu Dhabi. Cameras in the southwest of Abu Dhabi, one of the areas monitored by the aerial survey, recorded several sightings of the Ruppell’s Fox over a nine-month period.