Wildlife experts in Abu Dhabi have spent six months monitoring the movements of an elusive and endangered mountain-dwelling animal to learn how best to protect it.
Environment Agency Abu Dhabi spotted and tagged an Arabian tahr at Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain last August.
The rare horned animal, related to the mountain goat, is only found in small numbers in the mountains of the UAE and Oman. In the UAE, it is localised to Jebel Hafeet, Abu Dhabi's tallest mountain, and the Al Hajar mountains.
“The endangered species ... is highly vulnerable to development and disturbance,” said Dr Salim Javed, acting director of terrestrial biodiversity division at the agency.
He said the species was endemic to the emirate and had been living on Jebel Hafeet "since the mountain has been there".
The agency has been monitoring the tahr and working on ways to protect it and increase the population since its establishment in 2014.
"We have been more actively monitoring their numbers and placing cameras to observe them,” said Dr Javed.
“Accurate assessment of the population shows it is endangered, because it is confined to a very small space on the mountain and has a very small population. We estimated around 15 of them are on Jebel Hafeet, and it has not gone up.”
The agency set up cameras in potentially popular areas for the tahr across the mountain to monitor their movements.
“Direct observation is difficult because it is a mountainous habitat to travel around, and they prefer to be on slopes and to be confined in small areas,” said Dr Javed.
“We have put camera traps in remote locations that we think will possibly be frequented by this species, whether for food or water and, once it passes, we start taking photos and videos of it."
The tahr was tracked across the entire western slope of Jebel Hafeet National Park.
Dr Javed said the data indicate that such areas needed to be protected "to maintain healthy populations and to preserve the bio-diversity of Abu Dhabi and Jebel Hafeet’s ecosystem”.
The agency will continue observing the population to ensure it remains healthy.
“The best thing to do is to step aside and protect from afar," he said.
Of the three tahr variants, the Arabian is smallest in size at around 60cm tall. The Himalayan and Nilgiri tahr can each grow to be 140cm tall.
The herbivore is mostly brown in colour and has a beard similar to a goat's. Males are larger than females and the species is known to be monogamous.
“For us the Arabian tahr is a flagship species; if you protect it, you protect the other species on the mountain,” said Dr Javed.
“We will continue to monitor and put more collars on individuals to know more about their movement and to be able to improve the preservation of this species.”
Endangered species found in the UAE:
Sand dune cat (Felis margarita) - IUCN status: Least concern - Nocturnal creatures that live in shallow burrows and hunt rodents - Research published in 2005 indicated that only 250 remained in Abu Dhabi emirate; breeding programmes, including Al Ain Zoo's, aim to increase numbers. Courtesy Al Ain Zoo
The Arabian leopard is currently listed as critically endangered. Pawan Singh / The National
This is the first sighting of the rare Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii) in 13 years. Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi
Whale sharks are known as jinbe zame in Japanese, inspiring their newly discovered residents' name.. Getty Images
Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal) - IUCN status: least concern - thought to be extinct, the environment agency captured daytime and nighttime footage of the creature for the first time since 1984. Courtesy EAD
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) - IUCN status: Endangered - The UAE is one of 140 countries where the green turtle is a native species; numbers have fallen worldwide - Two years ago Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF launched Gulf Green Turtle Conservation. Courtesy Paul Velasco/EWS-WWF
Socotra cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) - IUCN status: Vulnerable - Found on islands of the coast of several Gulf states, including the UAE - Threatened by development and oil spills, the species has a total population of less than half a million. Courtesy- Rob Gubiani
Emirati leaf-toed gecko (Asaccus caudivolvulus) - IUCN status: Least concern - Only found in mountainous regions of north-eastern UAE and northern Oman - More recent research suggests it actually consists of three species, one of which is unique to the UAE ‚Äì making it the country's only endemic vertebrate ‚Äì and threatened by development. Photo Courtesy: Johannes Els.
Sea cow (Dugong dugon) - IUCN status: Vulnerable - Locally, boat strikes and fishing net entanglement is a threat, although there are major conservation efforts - The population in UAE waters is thought to be several thousand
The Crested Porcupine, a rodent thought to be extinct in the UAE, was recorded by camera traps in Abu Dhabi. Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi
Gulf sand gecko (Pseudoceramodactylus khobarensis) - IUCN status: Least concern - Found widely in the Arabian peninsula, especially in the UAE - This species is not endangered but its population is declining, and in the UAE it faces threats from the development of coastal sabkha habitat. Photo courtesy-Salvador Carranza)
Keyserling's wonder gecko (Teratoscincus keyserlingii) - IUCN status: Not yet evaluated - Although this species is also found in Iran, the UAE population is the only one in Arabia - Heavily threatened by development, it could be driven to extinction locally, although the Mohamed bin Zayed Species. Pritpal Soorae / Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) - IUCN status: Endangered - Widely distributed, but threatened by fishing for its fins and as accidental bycatch - Numbers have plummeted by four-fifths over the last quarter of a century. Image by Â© Norbert Wu/Science Faction/Corbis
Hawksbill turtles, rated as Critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, have begun laying their eggs on a beach in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National
Arabian tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) - IUCN status: Endangered - Restricted to mountainous regions of north-eastern UAE and northern Oman - Worldwide population is probably below 5,000. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National
Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) - IUCN status: Endangered - Often become entangled in fishing nets - A recent census found 701 individuals, so the waters off Abu Dhabi have the world's largest single population. Roland Seitre / Minden
The semaphore gecko is one of several species we have learned a great deal about in recent years. Getty Images
The Houbara bustard is classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Courtesy International Fund For Houbara Conservation
Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) - IUCN status: Vulnerable - Formerly listed as endangered, the UAE's reintroduction programme has helped to increase numbers - The wild population is about 1,200, just over half of which are UAE reintroduced individuals. Mike Young / The National
Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia) - IUCN status: Vulnerable - Found in much of the Middle East in gravelly and stony areas, but numbers have declined - Two sub-species exist in the UAE, where it is threatened by habitat loss
Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) - IUCN status: Critically endangered - The largest sawfish, it can reach up to seven metres in length - This coastal species has declined across its range and has become extinct from some countries. AP Photo
The Arabian tahr has been categorised as an endangered species, with a global population of less than 5,000. Courtesy TDIC
Blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) - IUCN status: Near threatened - Populations have suffered because of fishing - This species was spotted this year off the UAE's east coast
Updated: January 18, 2021 11:04 AM