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.”